The Technical Team at the Club holds a wealth of information and much of it is distilled in these pages.
If you’re looking for the right tyre for your motorhome or need to find a gas cylinder to use on the Continent, the chances are you will find the answer here.
Team members Ian Hewlett and Iain Geddes have both been active campers and caravanners since childhood. Now they regularly test cars and are involved in the Club’s annual Tow Car Awards. They also try out tents, trailer tents, caravans and motorhomes for the magazine’s On Test section and in their own time enjoy their own camping holidays.
Whether your question is about matching a tow car and caravan, how to use an electric hook-up or finding spares to repair your tent, you are likely to find the answer in these pages. But if not, you can ask the team by clicking below.
What is a ‘braked’ trailer?
Literally - a trailer with its own brakes.
It is important to know whether your trailer has brakes as many vehicles have different towing limits for trailers with and without brakes. Such information should be part of the towing vehicle’s technical specification in the handbook.
The legal Maximum Allowable Mass for a trailer without brakes is 750kg, however the towing vehicles limit may be lower than this. Also the law is clear - where brakes are fitted to a trailer they must work, regardless of its weight.
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How do I switch off my satnav’s speed camera warning feature when I am driving on the Continent?
The procedure varies between satnavs, but there will be an option to do this. You may need to refer to the manual.
If your machine is kept up-to-date automatically then it should self-switch to a mode suitable for that location, switching off or toning down the camera-warning message to suit local laws.
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My carbon monoxide (CO) alarm has gone off occasionally while I’ve been away even when I’ve not been using a gas appliance. What could cause this?
This may be a false alarm for toxic CO as the alarm sensor is sensitive to other gasses, including hydrogen.
There’s a strong possibility your leisure battery is giving off hydrogen. Even a sealed battery must have some form of gas vent. This process is usually associated with over charging or a battery in poor condition.
If you get an apparent false alarm from your CO detector, check your battery. If it is hot or there’s a sulphurous odour then turn off the charger and allow the battery to cool.
If the voltage drops quickly in this state the battery is damaged and will need to be replaced.
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Is it possible to link hook-up cables?
It shouldn’t be necessary to link hook-up cables in the UK. The wiring regulations effectively stipulate the distance between a pitch and the connection bollard so a 25m cable should service any pitch.
We recognise that in some cases, particularly on mainland Europe, it may be necessary to link cables. The 16A ‘blue plug’ connection is weather-resistant and is designed to withstand splashing rain but not immersion, so don’t let a join lie on the ground. Also avoid the temptation to wrap the join in a plastic bag as condensation is likely to find a way through the joins.
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I’m considering a seasonal pitch and putting an awning on my caravan for the duration. What should I take into account?
Assuming you’ve checked the site operator permits this, there’s an element of ‘you get what you pay for’ here. As is often the case, the most robust awnings are among the most expensive.
Many awning makers produce a range designed for seasonal pitching. They will be of a more resilient fabric to withstand the rigours of the weather, not just rain but ultra violet radiation from the sun too.
They’ll probably have more pegging points and personally I would choose steel poles over GRP for a seasonal pitch. They are heavy and not popular for touring, but robust when the weather’s inclement. Take advice from the retailer about storm tethering. Is it a temporary kit or can it be left permanently attached?
You should also think carefully about the peg type for the ground, the ones supplied may not be ideal for long-term use.Read more »
Is it wise to buy a new tourer at a show or exhibition?
A large show or exhibition can be an excellent time to buy, especially if there are extras being thrown in to encourage you to sign on the day.
However, remain mindful that a salesperson is a likely to be a skilled practitioner and he or she may steer you towards something that suits his or her targets more than your needs, though a good salesperson will listen to you and guide accordingly.
Also consider aftersales service. Who is it you’re buying from? Ideally you should purchase from a dealer that’s near your home or place of storage, in case of any warranty work.
You can read more about buying a caravan in our New to Caravans section.
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Can you use ordinary car petrol in a dual-fuel camping stove or lantern?
In a nutshell yes. Such kit will always work at its best with the manufacturer’s fuel, which has been blended for this purpose, but ordinary unleaded petrol is adequate. You may even be surprised how cleanly such stoves or lanterns will run when they’re well maintained and correctly pressurised. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Read more »
How can I heat my tent?
It is always challenging to consider bringing a heat source into a small textile structure. Some tents have been designed to have heating, for example some bell tents and tepees have been made to hold a dedicated solid fuel stove, with a route for the flue. If there’s no dedicated flue then do not use a combustion appliance – or even a take cooling barbecue inside – as the consequences could be fatal due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Most modern tents, even those made for all-season use, have not been designed for use with a heater. As a result, you should equip yourself appropriately for the climate and time of year you’re away. Proper thermal gear and high performance sleeping bags are readily available from good outdoor retailers.
We recognise some people use electric heaters when in a tent if the pitch has a hook-up point. We don’t want to stop this but we cannot stress enough that water and electricity are a dangerous combination and a tent can become very humid. You must consider turning off the heat in such circumstances. We have datasheets about electricity for tent users.
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Is it worth using a caravan or motorhome cover?
Caravan and motorhome covers certainly have a place and when any tourer goes into deep storage it’s worth considering one. A cover keeps the elements at bay (whether it strong sunshine or foul weather), and even barn storage benefits from a cover of sorts to reduce dust and stop birds soiling the exterior.
Tailored covers are generally the best as they can fit like a glove. If you prefer a cheaper generic cover then take great care when fitting all the tethers to make sure it cannot move when buffeted by the wind. Excess movement can cause premature wear. Also the tourer needs to be scrupulously clean before fitting your cover as dirt can act as an abrasive with any slight movement.
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I’ve had a new clutch and dual mass flywheel assembly fitted, should I run it in?
Modern vehicles are built to such fine tolerances that the historical sense of ‘running in’ a vehicle or a new major part is not the task it used to be. However you will find many car makers put advice in their handbooks about how to use the vehicle and there may be comments suggesting the vehicle is not used to tow until it has covered a prescribed distance. It would be prudent to check this advice and apply it to your vehicle with the new clutch assembly.
I get lots of condensation in my new awning, surely it is faulty?
Not necessarily. If you get the right (or perhaps wrong) combination of conditions including a lot of moisture in the ground (even if it seems dry at the surface) along with a significant difference in the air and temperatures it is possible for a large amount of condensation to form. So much that it seems as if the tent or awning is leaking even though it isn’t raining.
Tents and awnings should have been designed with sufficient fixed ventilation to minimise this, however in more temperate climates it may be necessary to leave some of the secondary ventilation open slightly to further aid airflow. The more sealed you make your awning the worse the condensation can become.
This is much less of an issue where breathable cotton-type tent materials are used but coated synthetic textiles will not allow the moisture through in the same way.
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I thought driving licences expired on your 70th birthday, but my new photocard licence has a ten year life even though I’m 68. How does this work?
Since its introduction the photocard licence has had a finite life, with a maximum of ten years, so it is important you check your licence to ensure it is in date and renew it as necessary.
The changes that occur on your 70th birthday still stand and it is important you read the documentation the DVLA sends carefully when you are nearing this age. We have a dedicated datasheet on driving licences for further reading.For licence holders of heavy goods or public service vehicles (HGVs and PSVs) the rules are different so you will need to check these requirement separately.
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At a recent service the technician told me the tyres on my caravan are five years old and I may wish to consider replacing them soon, how can this be when the caravan’s only three years old?
Due to the supply and demand, the length of the supply chain and batch manufacturing of tyres it's not unusual to find a caravan tyre that’s two years old before being fitted. Caravan tyres are generally light commercial van tyres and tend to be of a less common size so turnover can be slow.
Along with the tyre industry, the Club strongly recommends that tyres on all caravans, motorhomes and trailers are replaced at a maximum of seven years of age regardless of mileage or wear.
Some insurers have a cover term for caravans that will not pay out for tyre-related claims on tyres over five years old, unless you have proof they have had an annual inspection by a competent person.
For further reading on tyre age, see our new datasheet.
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Can I use a dehumidifier through the winter to stop condensation in a caravan or motorhome?
Dehumidifiers have a place where there’s a large build-up of water inside a caravan or motorhome, perhaps from condensation after you’ve been sleeping inside. It may, therefore, be useful to run such an appliance in a tourer immediately after a trip for up to 48 hours or so.
Once the interior has been brought to the same level of humidity as the outside, a dehumidifier cannot do anymore. In fact all you’ll be doing, if you leave it running, is attempting to dehumidify your garden or storage yard.
Double check against any storage advice from your caravan or motorhome manufacturer, but where none’s given consider a gentle amount of heat periodically if possible. Leave cupboard doors open. The heat will encourage air movement by convection and with the cupboard doors open airflow will be maximised, reducing cold spots, thus reducing how much moisture will condense out.
See our webpage about winter care for more tips.
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I hear Calor is recalling gas cylinders. How do I know if I need to return mine?
Calor has advised it is recalling 170,000 6kg propane Calorlite cylinders due to a potential material defect that could lead to gas escaping over time. Consumers are requested to check whether their cylinders were manufactured between 2008-2011 as they may need to be returned to their local Calor stockist.
A free replacement will be issued if the cylinder is part of the recall. Full details of the recall are on the Calor website. Further details can be obtained on their dedicated phone line 0800 783 4141.Read more »
When you ask about the size of our tent or trailer tent when booking a pitch do I have to include the guy-lines?
No, when booking a Club pitch we want all structures including pup tents, gazebos, utility tents, awnings and extensions to be included within the pitch dimensions but the guy-lines are kept separate.
Follow this link to our Club Sites policy page to find out more.Read more »
How do people find out what sort of motorhome or camper layout will suit them?
With such a huge array of motorhome layouts available it can be almost overwhelming for the first timer.
Rather than risking an expensive mistake in buying a camper that doesn’t quite fit your needs, it may be worth hiring one first. This way you get a real-world experience. If the motorhome doesn’t work out you’ve still had a holiday and gained knowledge that can be put to use when you are ready to buy.
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Is it possible to match a caravan to a panel van or another commercial vehicle?
It is possible to work out whether any vehicle has the capacity to tow a caravan or another trailer. Unfortunately, however, we cannot use Towsafe when matching to a commercial vehicle.
Towsafe is the service the Club uses to match cars and caravans. It has a comprehensive database that covers the majority of cars and dual-use vehicles (such as pickup trucks) manufactured since 1986, however there are no commercial vehicles in the database.
If you wish to tow with a van or minibus then you will need to check the VIN plate, which you should find on the vehicle. There will be several figures printed on it. Deduct the gross vehicle mass (GVM) from the gross train mass (GTM) and the result will give you a towing limit.
To establish a kerbweight you may need to get the vehicle weighed at a local weighbridge. Your local council should have a database of those that can be used by the public.
To understand the weight relationship between towing vehicle and trailer better read our datasheet on matching.
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Is UK bottled gas available in the rest of Europe?
Only Campingaz offers the end user anything approaching a pan-European exchange service. Other bottled gas products are generally national or regional products and exchanging outside these areas can be difficult.
Campingaz has a store finder web page but it does not highlight which gas cylinders - bottled or cartridge type - the retailer stocks.
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What’s the difference between a ‘wet head’ and ‘dry head’ trailer coupling?
A ‘wet head’ is essentially a grease-lubricated coupling, such as a traditional ball and socket connection. A ‘dry head’ is a stabiliser type that has friction pads built in. This requires a clean and dry towball.
Neither type of coupling is maintenance free. The dry head requires a clean towball free from oil or grease. Paint or other coatings should be removed for optimum operation and if the ball gets rusty the rust must be scoured off before use or there’s a risk of noisy operation.
The grease on the ball and coupling of a wet head needs to be cleaned off occasionally and replaced because it will pick up dirt particles over time. How often this needs to be done is dependent on the frequency of use and the type of environment you drive in, but it should be done at least annually.
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I occasionally get condensation between the plastic windows on my caravan. My dealer says this is normal. Is it?
It’s not unusual to get some droplets of water inside the windows of a caravan in certain atmospheric conditions. This is because the acrylic material in the panes is gas permeable at a microscopic level.
If there are high levels of humidity, water vapour can pass into the void between the panes, if there’s a sufficient temperature difference the moisture will simply condense out. This should clear on its own in due course and be nothing more than an occasional and minor irritation.
If you find one window section has considerably more condensation than the neighbouring windows and it persists even in strong sunlight then this suggests there’s a fault with the window and it should be investigated by your dealer.Read more »
What is a 'camper tyre'?
A camper tyre looks similar to its commercial van counterpart and may have the same tread pattern, load and speed ratings but there are differences within its construction, making the camper tyre better suited to camping units.
Two notable points are that a camper tyre will have been designed to be used at close to the base vehicle’s maximum weight for its entire life, as in a motorhome conversion. It should also cope better with longer periods of inactivity. These are two scenarios a normal van will not normally be subject to. Read more »
I am about to make my first camping trip abroad. Do I need anything special to use an electric hook-up?
The large blue socket we’re used to in the UK is an international standard connection that has been adopted throughout much of Europe.
However in France and Spain you may find old-style sockets, such as a standard Euro two-pin or ‘Shucko’ socket.
It is advisable to take a continental adaptor in case you need it. All good camping and caravan accessory shops should stock them.
For more information about hook-ups abroad see our travel abroad guide.Read more »
Is it right that the Channel Tunnel operators forbid LPG-powered vehicles, even if the tank is empty or the system disabled?
Tunnel operator Eurotunnel is quite clear that any vehicle using liquid petroleum gas (LPG), compressed natural gas (CNG) or another compressed flammable gas is not permitted through the tunnel, even if the system is empty or has been turned off.
It does, however, allow LPG cylinders for habitation use within caravans or motorhomes, whether in fixed tanks or the more typical exchange-type cylinders. Eurotunnel has a comprehensive breakdown of what’s permitted on its website.
None of the ferry operators that you can book through the Club’s Travel Service has a restriction on LPG-powered vehicles.Read more »
I'm going camping in Europe this summer and hope to have an electric hook-up. Do I take to have any special equipment?
The blue plug and socket that we use in the UK is the European standard, but many sites in parts of Continental Europe still use a two-pin connection, with either contacts at the side or a central third pin on the supply side for the earth connection, sometimes called a Shuko plug.
A Continental two-pin adapter lead can be bought from camping stores to connect from your existing lead to the old-style connections.Read more »
I've broken one of my tent poles - how do I go about fixing it?
Contact your local camping shop as they may have what you need off-the-shelf. Online retailers such as Tentspares will be able to sell you a section of the correct diameter. You can then thread off the damaged section, cut the new one to the same length, and re-thread it on to your pole. Read more »
My new car doesn’t have a buzzer for the trailer indicator. The dealer says they’re no longer a legal requirement but I’m not so sure.
The dealer’s incorrect, there must be some form of tell-tale for a trailer indicator, which can be visible or audible and function with the trailer indicator (as a traditional buzzer) or offer a warning of failure.
What’s important is that there must be a marked change in tell-tale frequency where there’s no trailer indicator function. Many manufacturers even have quite sophisticated display messages indicating what bulb’s not working.
For further in-depth reading on this subject visit the Right Connections website.
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I’m looking into getting a motor mover fitted to my caravan. The fitter recommended I change my jockey wheel for a weighing-scale type. Why is this?
A standard solid wheel jockey wheel is fine for normal use but when it strikes something hard (a crack or pebble for example) the impact goes straight through to the caravan chassis. Under normal conditions this is of no concern, however, a motor mover is a heavy fixed device that can make this jarring worse and may cause damage in the long term.A jockey wheel with a weighing scale, that’s usually used to establish the noseweight, will act as a cushion thanks to it being sprung. To an extent it will follow the sudden changes in the surface, keeping jarring to a minimum. A pneumatic jockey wheel can also help in this regard too.
You can find out more about choosing a motor mover on our dedicated web page.Read more »
What is a piercable gas canister?
If you visit a good camping shop you’ll see a varied selection of compact and disposable gas canisters. Many of these have some sort of valve fitting and can be removed from the appliance when not in use.
The piercable type has no valve and as you install them a sharp hollow tip on the appliance pierces the can allowing gas through to the valve. Once punctured that’s it, any attempt to remove the canister will allow the contents to escape. This could be potentially hazardous if there’s a source of ignition.
Visit our dedicated web page about gas for campers for more advice.Read more »
I’ve been trying to source a towbar for my car and the supplier has advised there’s not one available. Why is this?
Since 1998 all towbars for cars must be approved for use on the vehicle they’re to be fitted to. This is known in the trade as 'type approval'. In some instances a car manufacturer may not get a car type-approved to tow. Sometimes there may be a particular model of car that's not approved. Where there’s no approval, a towbar for towing a trailer must not be fitted. This can be very frustrating if you want to tow a caravan or other trailer and you already own the car, especially for those locked into a lease agreement. The only advice we can give is that if you think you may end up towing, check your chosen car has this ability in the technical details or handbook before you enter any agreement to lease or purchase.
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I am concerned that several cars I'm considering for towing have either a temporary slim spare tyre or run-flat tyres. Are these compatible with towing?
The slim tyre is normally acceptable but check the car’s handbook for limitations or exact instructions for use when towing.
Slim tyres are subject to a maximum speed of 50mph and a distance limitation set by the manufacturer. The tyre will have a load index at least equivalent to the full size road tyres, hence the loading will be acceptable. But because of the great difference in road contact, caution is needed when braking and manoeuvring, whether towing or not.Run-flat tyres are different. The additional flexibility of the deflated tyre may seriously affect the stability of the towing outfit. The car manufacturer should give guidance in the handbook, but be aware they may forbid towing at all or have a very low speed limit and a minimum distance may be imposed.
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Where can I get a pitch marker for when I leave the site for the day in my camper?
You can buy some quite elaborate pitch markers at many of the motorhome and caravan shows that take place throughout the year across the country.
A more simple one is to fashion up a simple stake and attach a copy of your registration plate, this can then be knocked into the ground as you drive off, letting the site staff know at a glance you’re out but intend to come back.
Also, if you leave your hook-up lead on the pitch, please remember to disconnect it from the power bollard too. It is not good practice to leave a live trailing lead on the ground.
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Some tents claim to be treated to resist fire. Does this mean it is safe to cook in my tent?
There is a subtle difference between fire-resistant and fireproof fabric. In the case of tents, fire-resistant means that when an ignition source is placed in contact with the fabric it may burn. But when the ignition source is removed from the fabric it will self-extinguish. Thus if your stove flares up and the tent catches light it will burn until the ignition source is removed.
Some tents have dedicated areas that could be used for cooking, with considerably more ventilation than normal and often with near vertical walls too.
However, as a general rule we don’t recommend you cook in a tent, nor place hot items such as lights or barbecues in tents or awnings – not just for fire safety but to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning too.
Carbon monoxide is a deadly gas produced from the combustion of fuels – please see our dedicated webpage on this topic.
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My car handbook specifies a maximum towing weight far higher than the 85 per cent recommendation. Surely the 85 per cent figure is unrealistic?
The 85 per cent recommendation is based on achieving a safe and stable match and is therefore often, but not always, less than the manufacturer’s towing limit.
The car’s towing limit has nothing to do with high speed stability. It’s simply based on the car’s mechanical capability and is tested with a series of 1-in-8 hill starts. The towing limit may not even be set by the traction or pulling power of a car and it may be constrained by some other limitation such as the clutch or handbrake performance.
If all conditions were perfect, with a smooth road, no hills, no wind and no other road users, the towing limit would be more meaningful but in the real world you should ideally keep a caravan lighter than the kerbweight of the towing vehicle hence the Club’s 85 per cent guide.
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I’m new to camping and have read on some web forums about SIGs. What does this mean?
A SIG is a sewn-in groundsheet. This means that either the flysheet, or living area of your tent, will have a groundsheet permanently sewn into it. This helps create a draught- and insect-free environment inside your tent. Read more »
Do I need extension mirrors when towing?
Regulations say that you should have mirrors to provide an adequate view to the rear and along both sides of your trailer.
With a small camping trailer or a narrow trailer such as some horseboxes it’s unlikely you’ll need extension mirrors. However, with many car and caravan combinations, including folding tourers, the view through your normal car mirrors will be obstructed, hence you will need to fit additional exterior mirrors.
The mirrors should be ‘e-marked’ to show they meet current standards. Don’t forget the regulations state your mirrors must not extend beyond your car or trailer by more than 200mm (250mm for cars registered from 2010) so once you go back to driving solo the extension mirrors need to be removed.
Here’s some more advice about extension mirrors.Read more »
Why is it so difficult to match a car to a caravan?
For some years now the Club has offered free use of the Towsafe matching system to members. It’s a good system with an excellent depth of data but we’re aware it’s not always been that easy to use. However, this will soon change.
Working with the new owners of Towsafe, we’re making some improvements, which means members should see a much easier-to-use interface.
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Can I use some sort of thermal wrap to stop butane freezing in winter?
It may seem paradoxical but you can’t do this. As butane approaches zero degrees it stops gassing off but the process of expanding the liquid from the cylinder to create a gas absorbs energy, making the temperature drop further. Therefore some form of insulation would only make the situation worse. In reality the only realistic option for LPG when you know the temperature drops below 10C is to use propane. Traditionally all-season campers would switch between propane and butane as the season progressed because butane worked out considerably cheaper. The price difference these days is quite small so many people choose to stick to propane throughout the year.
If you have a refillable system and use Autogas, this is predominantly propane so should be useable at lower temperatures.
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What’s the best way to care for my leisure battery in winter?
If you stand your tourer down for the winter, whether it’s a caravan or motorhome the onboard batteries will need to be kept charged to maintain them.
Ideally you’d remove them, store them somewhere and connect them to what’s often called a ‘smart charger’ that will push the necessary charge in.
However, this is not an option for everyone and why would you want to lift out a heavy battery when your caravan or motorhome has an onboard charger?
We know that not all onboard chargers are equal and that they have a primary role as a power supply. Therefore there’s a very real risk some of these will overcharge a battery, damaging it. If you intend to do this it’s important to monitor the battery.
See our advice for a better understanding of a leisure battery.
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CANDY EVANS looks at the variety of materials used in modern tents
IAN HEWLETT looks at the tools available to help you get a good match between your car and caravan
TERRY OWEN investigates insulation options for your caravan or motorhome, including some for older units
IAIN GEDDES visits Rimstock, a company specialising in alloy-wheel refurbishment