Nigel Hutson

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Caravan safety has come a long way, but self-adjusting brakes are yet to really catch on – Al-Ko hopes to change that, so let's take a look at the tech

Self-adjusting brakes are nothing new in the car world, but part of a caravan’s annual service has always been the strip-down, cleaning and manual adjustment of the braking system.

Obviously there’s nothing wrong with that. And the set-up has worked well.

But it’s almost been a case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

And that, of course, is still dependent upon having the caravan regularly serviced (something that we strongly advocate, irrespective of the age of your caravan or the annual mileage covered).

What’s new?

A year or so ago, leading caravan chassis manufacturer Al-Ko Kober introduced its AAA Premium Brake. It’s compatible with most of the company’s caravan/trailer axles, and is fully self-adjusting.

The introduction is pre-empting legislation that was due to be implemented in 2018 (although, at the time of writing, this is uncertain), which will call for ‘automatic adjustment of braking systems to ensure braking is both efficient and safe’.

With regards to the ‘efficiency’, as would be expected from a company such as Al-Ko Kober, the AAA Premium Brake has been thoroughly tested.

And the results? Stopping distances were reduced by five metres over the original, manually adjusted system that is fitted to the vast majority of our caravans.

A five-metre difference

Five metres may not sound like much, but it’s the length of a decent-sized family car.

Putting that into context, if you were travelling at around 15-20mph you’d require around five metres to stop – and hitting something at that speed would certainly spoil your day!

When the system was first launched, an Al-Ko Kober spokesperson said: “The Al-Ko AAA Premium Brake will always deliver consistent and smooth braking action, and optimum performance in all conditions and in all weathers.”

We would expect this to be the case, because tolerances are tighter and should be maintained at all times due to the self-adjustment.

Another benefit of the self-adjusting system is the theoretical time saved (and, therefore, potentially, the cost to customers) at annual service time, because manual adjustment is not needed.

However, Al-Ko Kober still recommends the removal of the brake drum for inspection and cleaning, so the time saving is likely to be minimal.

And it’s available now!

The Al-Ko AAA Premium Brake is now available to retro-fit, and the kit has an RRP of £225 including VAT.

While Al-Ko Kober doesn’t expect queues of owners knocking at its door to buy the the kit, a spokesman told me that many upgrades are likely to take place when the original set-up needs replacing or repairing.

Because correct torque values and toe-in and camber settings must be used, the upgrade can only be carried out by dealers and Approved Service Centres, so that will carry an additional cost over and above the kit itself.

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