25 Questions from Touring Newcomers Answered

There is no doubt that there is a lot to consider when starting out touring and it can feel a bit overwhelming. Terry Owen answers 25 basic questions to help get newcomers on their way

Do automatics make good towcars?

Cars fitted with automatic transmission can make superb towcars. The torque multiplying effect of the torque converter helps to give smooth takeoffs especially when starting on hills or in muddy conditions. Also automatic gear changes reduce the stress on both the driver and the towcar. One point to bear in mind though is that you may need an oil cooler for the gearbox. However many vehicles, particularly 4×4’s, have them fitted as standard. Cars fitted with CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) gearboxes may not be suitable for towing as their drive belts may not be rated for the extra load.

Automatic gear changes reduce the stress on both the driver and the towcar 

Can I tow a small car behind a motorhome?

Possibly, depending on the towing limits of the motorhome. To be legal in Europe the car needs to be on a trailer.

Do I need a special licence to drive a motorhome?

Probably not, especially if you passed your test before 1st January 1997. The licence you need to drive a motorhome depends on your age and the vehicle’s maximum authorised mass (MAM). This is the vehicle’s weight plus the maximum load it can carry. Many motorhomes have a MAM of 3.5 tonnes which you can drive on a standard licence. To drive a motorhome with a MAM of between 3.5 and 7.5 tonnes, you need a category C1 licence and for a motorhome with a MAM of over 7.5 tonnes, you need a category C licence.

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A standard driving licence allows you to drive a motorhome with a MAM of up to 3.5 tonnes

Is there any way we can try a motorhome out before we buy?

Motorhomes are widely available for hire so there is plenty of choice. Some dealers will allow you to hire one and then knock the hire cost off the purchase price if you buy it.

Are there any courses on towing?

Yes, if you want to learn how to tow a caravan the Camping and Caravanning Club runs manoeuvring courses for both caravans and motorhomes throughout the country from March to September. The Caravan Club runs similar courses for members and non-members at centres across the country.

I can’t keep my caravan or motorhome at home – what are the other options?

Some farmers will allow you to use their land for storage in return for an annual fee. However security can be a major problem so consider using a dedicated storage site with good protection. To find out more visit the website of the Caravan Storage Site Owners’ Association. Some campsites also offer long term storage.

Caravan storage at Cassoa accredited Headon Farm

Do I need a stabiliser when towing a caravan?

Stabilisers are not strictly necessary if a caravan is well loaded and matched to the towcar. They do however give an extra margin of safety and for that reason virtually all modern caravans come with a hitch head stabiliser.

What is the difference between a leisure battery and a car battery?

Leisure batteries are designed to provide low currents for long periods between charges. Car batteries are designed to provide high currents (to start the car) for short periods and then be immediately recharged by the car’s alternator. A car battery will not give good performance if used as a leisure battery.

Pick the right leisure battery for your needs

How often should caravan tyres be changed?

Caravan tyres do not wear out but they do perish and should be changed at about 5 years old. This is particularly important in the case of heavy single axle caravans, especially if used on the continent during the summer.

How often does my caravan or motorhome need servicing?

An annual service is highly recommended and is usually a requirement of any warranty. The driving components of a motorhome should be serviced at the intervals specified by the manufacturer of the base vehicle.

What is noseweight?

Noseweight is the down force exerted by the caravan on the towball. For stable towing a minimum noseweight of 5-7% of the caravan’s weight is recommended, provided this does not exceed the limit of the car, tow bracket or tow hitch.

Checking the noseweight using bathroom scales and wood

Which type of LPG gas should I use?

If you only plan on touring in the main season of Easter to October then butane (blue bottles) should work out best. If you plan to caravan outside this period then go for propane (red bottles) as it will work at low temperatures where liquid butane struggles to turn into a gas.

How can I protect my caravan or motorhome from theft?

The simple answer is to invest in and use security products that have passed independent tests by reputable testing agencies such as Sold Secure or Thatcham. Wheel locking devices, alarm and tracking systems and detachable steering wheels can all help to protect you precious investment.

Make your van as unattractive as possible to thieves

Will my TV work abroad?

If you buy a TV specifically designed for use with a caravan or motorhome then it will probably be ‘multi standard’ meaning that it will work In Europe. TVs designed just for use within the UK are unlikely to work properly abroad as transmission protocols vary from country to country.

Is it worth buying a satellite system?

Maybe, depending where you will be travelling to. In remote areas terrestrial TV signals can be weak whereas a satellite dish might work perfectly. A satellite system may also enable you to pick up UK programs whilst abroad. One advantage of a satellite system is that you do not have to keep retuning your TV. A disadvantage is that the dish will need ‘line of sight’ to the satellite and can be tricky to set up.

A satellite dish may enable you to pick up UK programs whilst abroad

Do I need a TV licence for my caravan or motorhome?

If you have a TV licence for your main residence then you will be covered for use with your caravan or motorhome. If your caravan or motorhome is your main residence then you will need a licence. This can be assigned to a registration number and a designated site.

Does it matter which toilet fluid I use?

Some chemical loo disposal points stipulate that only ‘green’ fluids must be used as these biodegrade easily in septic tanks and sewage treatment plants. Other than that it’s really a case of personal preference, some fluids are a jolly sight more pleasant than others!

Are solar panels any good?

If you plan to use your outfit without a mains hook up then a solar panel can provide a welcome boost to your leisure battery. Ideally choose a panel rated at a minimum of 50 watts for free standing use or 80 watts if permanently fixed to the roof of your vehicle.

Solar panels provide an extra power boost

What is the best way to use two leisure batteries?

If the batteries are of the same age and type then it’s probably more convenient to connect them together (positive to positive, negative to negative with suitable fuses). If not then it’s best to use them independently, replacing the first with the second when the first is begins to go flat. Another advantage of doing this is that if you accidentally leave something switched on you will only flatten one battery and not two!

Can I run my fridge on a ferry crossing?

No, ferry companies forbid this on safety grounds. One way of keeping the fridge cool for extended periods without power is to put in some frozen freezer blocks just before you travel. Alternatively, buy fresh food at your destination.

How long should a leisure battery last before it needs replacing?

It really depends on how well you look after it. If you never let it go flat and top up the fluid as necessary then 3-5 years is possible.

Can I use a pressure washer to clean my caravan or motorhome?

Most caravans and motorhomes rely on soft mastics to seal joints. These mastics can easily be displaced by the force of a pressure washer so the best advice is not to use one or, if you must, keep the nozzle at least 2 metres away from any joints or seals.

Pressure washing your motorhome can damage it

Are caravan or motorhome covers worth investing in?

If you lay your caravan or motorhome up for long periods or regularly store it under a tree then a cover could be a good investment. Make sure you get one that breathes or it could do more harm than good.

Are towing mirrors a legal requirement when towing a caravan?

In almost all instances, yes. If towing a caravan you will almost certainly need extension mirrors, even if you tow with a big 4×4. This is because the law requires you to have a good view down the sides of the caravan and be able to see clearly an area that is 4 metres wide from the side of your caravan at distance 20 metres behind the driver.

Towing mirrors allow for a clear view down the side of your caravan

How can I remove scratches from my van’s plastic windows?

If the scratches are very shallow try a metal cleaning polish such as Brasso. Deeper scratches may respond to toothpaste.

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