Buying and using a caravan

Posted on December 2nd, 2013 by GEM Motoring Assist

If you’re considering taking your first steps into the world of caravanning we have all the information you need and a list of useful contacts to help you on your way right here. GEM also offers caravanners some of the best insurance deals available to ensure that your caravanning experience is a positive one.

Q: Am I covered as a GEM member if I break down when towing a caravan?
A: Yes, as long as you have a GEM Recovery RECLAIM or GEM Recovery EXTRA policy you can have complete peace of mind when you’re on the road. Please check our full terms and conditions for the exact levels of cover your breakdown policy provides.

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Q: Should I buy a new or used caravan?
A: Buying a brand new caravan is costly but it should be in pristine condition and, as you are buying from a dealer, you’ll have a warranty and plenty of comeback in law if something goes wrong. You will also have this comeback if you buy a used caravan, but only if it is bought from a dealer. Buying used will save you a lot of money and if you go for an older model you may be able to get a higher spec than you would have otherwise been able to afford. However, buying a used caravan privately will net you the biggest bargain, but this route is full of potential pitfalls. Firstly, you’ll have to be sure that the caravan isn’t stolen and then you’ll need to carry out a full condition check to make sure it’s not about to fall apart. There’ll be no warranty, so if anything does go wrong the seller isn’t obliged to do anything about it. Caravans bought privately are ‘sold as seen’ so make sure you see everything – take a friend who knows caravans, or pay a mechanic to check all the parts are in working order before you buy. You could get a fantastic bargain buying privately, here are some points to consider first though:

* Only agree to view a caravan at the seller’s home. Never agree to meet in a car park or let him bring the caravan to you. If you have the seller’s address he’s less likely to pass on a stolen caravan

* Ask to see the owners manual – if holds important information such as tyre pressures and sizes, and if it’s been kept safe shows the owner has probably cared for the caravan

* Similarly, ask for the service history – if the caravan’s been looked after properly, the owner should have records to prove this

* Try out the steadies – if there is damage or neglect this is likely to show in resistance during winding

* Examine the roof – ask for a ladder so that you can check the state of the roof, rooflights and their seals. If the seller can’t provide a ladder ask how he cleans the roof

* Inspect every inch of the caravan and if possible take someone who knows what they’re looking for along with you

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Q: Will my car be OK for towing a caravan?
A: Obviously the answer to this question depends on the make and model of your car and the size of the caravan, but for safe and stable towing you should choose the smallest and lightest caravan that is suitable for your needs. The less the weight of the caravan in relation to the towing vehicle, the safer and more stable the overall set-up. The Caravan Club recommends that you should aim for a towing weight that is no more than 85% of the car’s kerb weight, and that you should never tow above 100% of your car’s kerb weight. Regardless of these recommended weight ratios, you should never exceed the car manufacturer’s specified maximum tow load.

For more detailed information on legal weights and sizes for towing go to the National Trailer and Towing Association  (NTTA) (01926 335445). In addition, the Highways Agency has released a film, Fit to Tow, with lots of information from safe driving to vehicle suitability.

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Q: What’s the speed limit for me when I’m towing?
A:When towing, and this does not just apply to caravans, you can travel up to 50mph on single carriageway roads and up to 60mph on dual carriageways and motorways. Towing vehicles are not permitted to use lane three (or the outside lane if there are more than three lanes) of the motorway, unless all the other lanes are closed.

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Q: Will I need to have special mirrors fitted to my car when towing?
A: For safe towing, you should definitely have two outside mirrors fitted to your car. These should be wide enough for you to have a good view along either side of the caravan and for you to see overtaking vehicles clearly. They will also be helpful with reversing.

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Q: Are there any good caravan insurance deals for me as a GEM member?

A: Yes, GEM has negotiated caravan insurance for its members via leading provider ‘Shield’. For a quote, call 01277 243 010 quoting GM09C.

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Q: What special arrangements will I need to make before taking my caravan abroad?

A: Generally, the preparations you need to make before travelling abroad with your caravan are the same as if you were just taking the car. For instance, you must carry a fire extinguisher, first aid kit and warning triangle (two are required in some countries) at all times, and in some EU countries carrying a high visibility vest or jacket is also now a legal requirement. Don’t forget to put reflectors on your headlights and to ensure that both your car’s and caravan’s tyres are in good condition and properly inflated.

Make sure your insurance covers you for foreign travel, or arrange new cover, and that you have your full drivers licence (paper part and photocard) with you. If you still have an old-style paper-only licence, it could be worth getting a new one before you travel or obtaining an international driving licence as well.

It is worth knowing that Calorgas is not available on the Continent. Campingaz is widely available but you will need an adaptor to connect to a Calor-type butane regulator. Alternatively, you could carry enough cylinders for your trip but you’ll have to check with the cross-Channel operators, as they may restrict the amount of gas to be carried.

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Q: What’s a B + E test? Will I need to pass this before buying and using a caravan?

A: The majority of people who want to tow a caravan can do so on their full driving licence. However, if you passed your driving test after January 1, 1997 your category B licence (‘normal’ car entitlement) will only allow you to tow up to a combined car and trailer weight of 3.5 tonnes. New drivers wanting to tow above this weight must take a category B+E test. The B+E test is a practical driving test with no theory section. For more information contact the DVLA.

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Q: Should I perhaps consider a motorhome? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a motorhome?

A: A motorhome is a lot more expensive to buy than an equivalent berth and spec caravan, for example a new five-berth caravan starts at around £10,000 while a new five-berth motorhome will set you back closer to £24,000. Top spec UK motorhomes can cost as much as £70,000, but if a USA style Winnebego is more your thing you’ll need around £250,000. As the engine is an integral part of the vehicle, it will need regular use and servicing to stay in good working order. Driving your accommodation around the place offers great flexibility and convenience but can also be a nuisance – with a motorhome you don’t have independent transport once you’re at your destination and need to drive the whole thing to the shops or on days out. However, owning a motorhome means no towing and they hold their value well if properly looked after.

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Useful Contacts

The National Trailer and Towing Association  (01926 335445)

The Caravan Club (01342 336808)


The Highways Agency

‘Sheild’ Insurance   (01277 243 010)

The information on this Site is provided on the understanding that GEM Motoring Assist is not rendering legal or other advice. You should consult your own professional advisers as to legal or other advice relevant to any action you wish to take in connection with this website.

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