David MottonSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Travel and touring’ written by David Motton
Tow Car Editor
Hats off to you if this winter's heavy rain and storms haven't put you off touring. But whether you have braved the weather or you kept your caravan in hibernation, spring is only just around the corner. It's half-term for most schools next week, and then it's not long before the Easter break.
If you're planning your first caravan holiday of the new season, here are a few tips to make sure your car and caravan are ready for the longer days and milder weather.
Preparing your tow car
Most of us use our everyday car as our tow car. If it's been well looked after it should be almost ready to tow, needing just a few basic checks. Most of these apply whether you are towing or not, but if they haven't been carried out for a while they are definitely worth doing before your first towing trip of the spring. Giving your car a thorough once-over at least a week before you plan to go away will give you time to have any problems fixed before your caravanning break.
Check your wipers are clearing the windscreen properly without smearing. Towing in a spring shower with poor visibility is no fun at all. If the blades have seen better days, replace them. It's a quick and easy job. Topping up the washer fluid is another fast and simple task.
Another part of your regular maintenance routine should be checking the oil level. Park the car on level ground. Pull out the dipstick and wipe it clean on an old rag. Put the dipstick in and out again, and see if the oil comes between the minimum and maximum marks. If it falls short, top up the level. Make sure you use the correct grade and specification of oil.
While the bonnet is up, check the coolant level. Top it up if it's running low.
Take a good look at your car's tyres. By law there should be at least 1.6mm of tread across a continuous band in the centre 3/4 of the tread and around the entire circumference. In reality, wet-weather performance will have suffered long before tyres reach this legal minimum, with reduced grip and greater stopping distances. Replacing tyres when the tread is down to around 3mm is a sensible rule of thumb. And if you've been on winter tyres for the past few months, you'll want to think about swapping back to summer tyres at some point between now and Easter.
Before you set off on tour, inflate the car's tyres to the correct pressures for towing. Typically you'll put some more air in the tyres, especially at the back, to cope with the extra weight of a heavily loaded car and the download on the tow ball. The correct tyre pressures can usually be found on a sticker inside one of the front doors, on the inside of the fuel filler cap, or in your tow car's handbook.
If you use a small car for everyday driving and keep a larger tow car in reserve for caravanning trips, it's worth getting it out of the garage for a quick run a week or two before your first tour of the season. You don't want to discover a flat battery the day you plan to set off. If the tow car has been unused all winter, make sure all the electrics, as well as the heating and ventilation systems, are working properly.
Preparing your caravan
If your caravan has been outside without a cover, it will almost certainly benefit from a good wash. Even if it has been under a cover you may still want to give the bodywork a clean. Applying a coat of wax will keep your tourer looking pristine for longer.
Make sure the tyres are in good condition, with no sign of cracking and plenty of tread remaining. Pump them up to the correct pressures – they'll probably have lost some air after sitting still all winter.
A week or so before your first trip, hitch up the car and caravan so you can check the lights are working properly. Replace any bulbs that have failed. Take the chance to make sure the hitch is working smoothly, too, and, if necessary, lubricate it.
The inside of a caravan can be a bit musty after a winter-long hibernation. A thorough vacuum and clean will have the tourer smelling fresher. If possible, clean the inside of the caravan on a dry day, so you can leave the doors and windows open to let the air circulate inside.
If your caravan has been unused for some months, hopefully you will have removed the leisure battery and kept it on a trickle charge. If so, it should be in rude health and ready for the new season. If you left the battery in the caravan, check it is still working and recharge it if necessary. If the battery is old or has discharged completely, its performance may be compromised, in which case you might want to replace it.
Attach the gas bottle, and check the cooker, fridge and heating are all working properly, too.
Most of these checks can be carried out at home, but the belts and braces approach to preparing your tourer for the new season is to book it for a service. A professional workshop will do a thorough job.
With your car and caravan fully prepared, you can look forward to the start of another touring season. Happy holidays!