Servicing Your Caravan
Keeping The Wheels Turning
Be honest. When did you last have your caravan serviced? As a road-going ‘vehicle’, this is something that’s crucially important for reasons of safety. That’s your safety as well as the safety of other road users.
However, some caravans haven’t been serviced since the day they rolled off the factory production line. So it’s hardly surprising that when the police carry out roadside safety checks, they’re often finding key items like brakes and tyres in a woeful condition.
Then there are the supply systems inside a caravan which need attention. With the stresses imposed by towing, gas couplings for example, can start to leak. And appliances need periodic attention, too. Overlook your fridge service and you might find it fails during the heat of summer.
In essence, a caravan service focuses on two areas of safety:
- Road safety features like brakes, tyres, exterior lights and so on.
- Living area safety elements like integrity of the gas system, the mains electricity wiring and the operating performance of individual appliances.
It also includes inspections of general condition. For instance, a routine damp test is an example of an important check procedure.
Where are services done?
Most caravan dealers have a service facility as part of their operation. In many instances work is carried out by well-trained engineers in fully-equipped workshops. Sadly, however, there are ‘cowboys’ in this industry just as there are in several others. So how can you confirm that the work is being done to a high standard?
Eager to create a yardstick by which a caravan service can be judged, a national initiative is now in operation known as ‘The Approved Caravan Workshop Scheme’. Three major organisations are involved – The Camping & Caravanning Club, The Caravan Club and The National Caravan Council. And to ensure that high standards are achieved and maintained, member workshops are subjected to rigorous scrutiny every year by an independent testing agency.
Currently there are nearly 100 Approved Workshops in operation. Obviously there are some good service centres not in membership of the scheme, but at least you know with an Approved Workshop that your caravan is being put through a rigorous servicing schedule using up-to-date equipment.
Two useful leaflets describe the independently assessed service centres in membership of the Approved Caravan Workshop scheme. These are:
- Approved Caravan Workshop – Code of Practice
- Why you should have your caravan serviced at an Approved Caravan Workshop.
If you want to find out more about the scheme, note the telephone contact points. Alternatively you can check details on the independent test agency’s website: www.jones-vening.co.uk
You can get more information about the Approved Caravan Workshop scheme and details of your nearest centre by telephoning one of these numbers:
- The Camping & Caravanning Club: +44 (0)24 7669 4995
- The Caravan Club: +44 (0)1342 326944
- The National Caravan Council: +44 (0)1252 318251
What does a service entail?
An essential feature is working to an itemised Service Schedule. This should be available for customer inspection and submitted with appropriate comments when the work’s complete. Hence features like tyre tread depth should be pointed out – as should wear on the brake shoes.
Regrettably a few workshops fail to do this. Indeed some caravan owners are disillusioned and doubtful about the whole subject of caravan servicing. This is hardly surprising if a dodgy operator has ever sold you short.
Curiously, the standard service operations carried out in many caravan workshops do not include the refrigerator service recommended by Electrolux. Whereas a fridge is normally tested for cooling and its gas flame checked by a gas engineer, a full fridge service is usually an ‘optional extra’.
In most refrigerator service operations, the appliance has to be removed from the caravan. This is sometimes the hardest task of all. Thereafter it includes service operations like:
- changing the jet,
- cleaning the burner assembly,
- removing carbon from the flue,
- checking gaps of the ignitor
- checking operation of the flame failure device
- check of the wiring and operation.
This is seldom included in a standard caravan service. A full refrigerator service is usually an optional element.
Another task that I strongly recommend is to have the telescopic tubing on a spare wheel carrier generously greased. A large number of caravans now have underfloor carriers and if the tubing isn’t opened up and lubricated, the ‘tube within a tube’ will rust and lock solid. If a puncture occurs, a roadside repair is not the time to find that your spare wheel is irretrievable. Curiously, spare wheel carriers are often overlooked during servicing.
Sometimes an owner just wants a damp test carried out and most centres will also undertake this as a standalone operation. And sometimes there are special services for trailer tents, folding caravans and the habitation element in motorhomes.
To sum this up, you need to know exactly what’s on offer when booking-in your caravan.
A further optional element is written accreditation. When you’ve had the gas system checked by an engineer qualified to inspect and verify its working order, it’s very helpful to have a signed and dated certificate.
It’s the same with regard to the mains electricity supply. A certificate confirming its integrity is another useful document and this should be issued by one of the following:
- an approved contractor of The National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting, or
- a member of either the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) or the Electrical Contractors Association of Scotland
Receiving certificates is useful for your own peace of mind but it’s also helpful when you come to sell your caravan. These documents together with full work records help to authenticate the condition of your caravan – just like MOT certificates and stamped service books do when you’re selling a car. For further peace of mind its always worthwhile making sure you have the best insurance for your caravan, although this is not a legal necessity – it is a worthwhile investment to help protect your caravan from loss or damage.
Areas of attention
In total, the service tasks needing to be done can be classified into specific areas. These are subdivided and some areas involve many more service operations than others. For instance the first section below deals with elements like the chassis, jockey wheel, coupling head, the suspension, the brakes, and tyres. In contrast the section dealing with fire safety includes fewer checking areas.
The service schedule recommended uses the following classification:
- Chassis and running gear
- Gas supply and appliances
- Electrical supply – 12V DC and 230V AC
- Water systems
- Body-work, general condition and damp test
- Fire warning systems
This leaves two further service options:
- Service refrigerator in accordance with Electrolux instructions
- Furniture and blind check – inspect and lubricate furniture catches and hinges, check blind operation.
Service intervals: The extent of a caravan’s pattern of use cannot be easily gauged in miles. For most owners, a caravan needs servicing every 12 months but owners who use their caravan all year round and engage in long trips, should submit their caravan for servicing more frequently.
Recognising that caravanners are, of necessity, practical people, many owners may wish to carry out their own servicing work and a large number of the jobs are relatively straightforward for the competent DIYer but there are also exceptions.
For instance work on a gas supply system and on gas appliances should only be carried out by a suitably qualified gas engineer. This is a potentially dangerous area of work and the explosive power of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is devastating.
Similarly the verification that a mains electricity supply system is sound should be entrusted to a qualified electrician. And don’t forget that abrupt movements caused when towing on bumpy roads means that the integrity of electrical connections come under much greater threat than the connections in our homes.
Irrespective of an owner’s experience and qualification to undertake servicing work on his or her caravan, when a model is still under warranty, the manufacturer will have clear requirements concerning WHO should complete the work and stamp the service booklet. If you own a caravan still under warranty, be absolutely clear that the dealer undertaking servicing is one recognised by the manufacturer. Failure to do this might render a claim under the warranty invalid.
When it comes to the chassis and running gear, there’s no doubt that with the appropriate knowledge, tools, materials and skills, jobs like applying grease to the corner steadies of a caravan are fairly straightforward. That said, far too many people apply an awful lot of grease which then attracts grit from the road. A clean spindle is important and a modest film of grease is all that is needed.
Without doubt, many parts of a caravan service can be carried out using a reasonably equipped toolbox – but a few jobs need special tools. Carrying out a damp test, for example, needs a good quality damp meter and an understanding of what the readings mean.
Moreover, to inspect the wheel bearings and drum brake assemblies needs special tools – at least on caravans manufactured in the later 1990s. In 1994 models (1992 if the chassis is a BPW), the old type of tapered roller bearings were superseded by sealed bearing units. Equally, the means of attaching brake drums was also changed.
The use of open roller bearings and drum retention using a castellated nut and split pin was superseded by sealed-for-life bearings and the drum retention then needed a ‘one-shot’ nut. The change took effect as follows:
Caravans built on Knott running gear from 1992 onwards are almost certain to have sealed-for-life bearings and drum retention with a ‘one-shot’ nut.
Caravans built on Al-Ko Kober running gear from the 1994 model year onwards have sealed-for-life running gear and ‘one-shot’ nuts; this forms part of Al-Ko’s Euro Axle specification.
Where a drum is held in place using a ‘one-shot’ nut instead of a castellated nut with a split pin, it’s essential to tighten this with a calibrated torque wrench. The setting is critical and the cost of a torque wrench suitable for the job is around £250. In consequence, most DIY owners find that a job which didn’t need special service tools on older caravans is now beyond their scope.
Modern caravans are sophisticated road-going vehicles fitted inside with all kinds of creature comforts. However, regular servicing and condition checks are essential and this is for the safety of all concerned.