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Understanding Your Caravan and Equipping Your Caravan

Understanding Your Caravan and Equipping Your Caravan
Caravans and camper-trailers have to be registered separately to your vehicle, and serviced regularly. Before you set off on your trip, it is worthwhile spending some time understanding your caravan workings and all its components. Although many features are now standard, particularly in new vans, there will still be some equipping of your caravan to do.

Similarly to your car, caravans need regular servicing also. The wheel bearings and brakes need to be checked every 20,000 km or annually. Your normal mechanic that services your car will be able to service your caravan as well. By understanding your caravan you will be able to take a spare set of wheel bearings with you and replace them yourself. If you are unsure of how to do this, just ask your local mechanic and he will gladly explain how to change them.

Brakes are a little more complex. Again your normal mechanic should be able to check them for wear etc, but sometimes you may have to visit a brake specialist. Most other areas on your caravan are just routing checking like the battery and lights etc. You can either do this yourself with a little bit of knowledge, or wherever you are travelling the garage mechanic will be able to check them for you.

1. Power Supply
Caravans are usually wired to operate on both 12 volt and 240 volt. The 240 volt supply will be a plug-in supply from your powered campsite or from a home power point if you are staying with friends. They require 15 amp plugs, which are not normally fitted in homes so make sure your extension lead caters for 15 amp plugs. Most caravans have a 12 volt battery to operate the electrics in your caravan and this must be charged regularly by either a battery charger or via an Anderson Plug connected to your car when it is running.

Some caravans and motorhomes are also fitted with a switch which charges your caravan battery while the vehicle is plugged into 240 volt power. It is strongly recommended you have this switch connected.

If you have an Anderson plug fitted that uses your vehicle's alternator to charge your caravan battery, make sure you have an isolation devise fitted so the batteries can be separated when the vehicle is not running. The last thing you want is for the caravan to drain your vehicle's battery and not be able to start your car. If you are going bush you may consider carrying a generator with you as well. If you are going to stay in caravan parks you will not need a generator. If you think you just might want one, they are heavy, take up a fair bit of storage room and are noisy to operate.

Another popular source of power these days is solar power. Similarly, to the generator this would only be useful if you are not staying in caravan parks and do not have an Anderson plug fitted to your vehicle to charge your caravan's battery.

2. Refrigeration
What sort of a fridge should you have? For many years the three way fridge has been the preferred choice for caravan owners. These operate on 12 volt (battery), 240 volt (power point) or gas. These fridges work quite well on 240 volt and gas, but struggle a bit when on 12 volt despite using quite a lot of power - some of the newer models perform a bit better. Performance can be slightly improved by installing a ventilator fan behind the fridge to improve airflow. These are available at caravan accessory shops.

3. Gas Supply
Most caravans, campervans and motorhomes have gas-operated stoves, ovens and hot-water services. Gas is efficient, clean and quite safe. Use a two gas bottle system so you can use one gas bottle until it is completely empty and then switch to the other bottle. This will save you trying to guess how much gas is left in a bottle and how long it will last and also enables you to use all the gas and not refill it with gas still left. Always stand gas bottles in a vertical position and make sure a regulator is fitted so it will turn the gas off if a major leak occurs

Check that your gas bottles are not out of date. The date is stamped on the collar of the bottle, and it should indicate that the bottle has been checked within the last 10 years. It is against the law for a reseller to fill out-of-date gas bottles. Most service stations now have exchange gas bottles. This enables you to take your empty gas bottle and just pay exchange it for a full bottle. Check the out of date on the new gas bottle as well, to ensure it will not expire shortly.

4. Lifestyle Extras
By understanding your caravan and equipping your caravan, you will want a few necessary extras. Television, video recorders and DVD's are increasingly popular items to travel with. Most Australian towns have some kind of television reception but for those who want reliable reception, there is the option of installing a satellite dish to your caravan, offering access to a selection of free-to-air and cable channels. If you are off the beaten track, don't forget you DVD's. Television and videos come in 12 volt and 240 volt.

A full annexe, complete with floor, can add thousands of dollars to the cost of a new van. It may seem like a desirable item but, if you are moving around a lot, you may find that it gets used rarely. Awnings tend to be more useful as they are much easier to set up.

You will spend nearly as much time outside under your awning as you will inside your caravan. As such an outdoor table setting is an important addition to your camping equipment. Also desirable are a couple of comfortable chairs to relax in. With these kinds of purchases, you tend to get what you pay for in terms of quality. Another fairly indispensable item is an outdoor stove or barbecue. Cooking outdoors while caravanning is sociable and pleasurable, and it means not having to live and sleep with the smell of cooked meat or fish. Most parks have barbecue areas, but these can be in high demand.

Portable chemical toilets are used by those travelling in smaller campervans or with caravans that do not have a built-in facility. They require regular emptying and the chemicals have to be replenished. They are popular with older travellers who do not relish the idea of navigating a course to the amenity block during the small hours.

5. Blocks and Chocks
You will rarely find your camp site perfectly flat, so you will need to carry levelling blocks to rectify the situation. These come in the form of shaped wedges (or you can use a thick, flat board). They are placed on the ground and your caravan is driven onto them. Some motorhomes have built-in self-levelling supports. (see arrive at campsite). A pair of shaped wheel-chocks is very handy for stabilising your van. Chocks can be bought commercially or easily made at home. They should be placed on the downhill side of the caravan's wheels to prevent the unit rolling.

This is the seventh page of 23 with related information about making the most of your caravan holiday. Check our website at for the other articles.***

by Ian Molloy
Ian Molloy is the owner of Crikey Adventure Tours. Visit his website for more information about this article and other related topics. His site is full of very helpful travel information including tips on motorcycle travel, driving cross-country, travelling with a caravan and other camping and travel information.
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