Loading caravans properly: find out how

Awning, chairs, BBQ – clothes, toys, bikes: there are so many things you have to pack for your camping holiday. But the question remains: how? We’ll give you some tips on where best to pack your luggage and what you have to remember with regard to overall weight, towing capacity, etc. and how to save weight.

From heavy to light: everything in its place

The heavy stuff at the bottom, the light stuff on top – that’s the rule of thumb if you want to load your caravan properly. After all, you do want to reach your holiday destination safely, don’t you? No matter whether you're driving to Italy through San Bernardino or are heading North on the motorway: a caravan that is not loaded properly can easily start swerving or swaying from side to side. If you don’t react immediately by reducing your speed, for example, you can quickly lose control of the car/caravan combination.

Therefore, consider the following useful hints when loading your caravan:

  • Stow heavy luggage at the bottom of the caravan near the axle. This keeps the centre of gravity of the caravan low and ensures best road adherence of the caravan. If this is not possible, load heavy luggage as near to the front of the caravan as possible. Remember, very heavy objects should be carried in the towing vehicle.
  • Use the storage boxes near the floor for moderately heavy luggage.
  • The upper storage compartments should be used for light luggage: store clothes in the sleeping area, while the cupboards under the kitchen unit are suitable for crockery. The rear of the caravan can also be loaded with light objects.

Secure the load carefully

Take sufficient time to pack your caravan and stow the luggage with foresight so that the caravan is ready to live in when you arrive at your holiday destination. The knack is to stow everything so that it’s easy to reach – and still make use of every corner so that the luggage can’t be thrown around while you’re driving.

In particular, you must secure heavy items so that they cannot slide around. Remember, everything that is not secured can be thrown around the caravan if you have to brake suddenly. And the scrapes and marks on the furniture are the least of your problems.

If you don’t need all the storage space in your caravan, it's advisable to fill one storage compartment and leave another one empty. The aim is to pack items tightly together so that they cannot move around.

Using the storage space in the gas box properly

Store and secure the gas cylinders that you need for your camping holiday in the Gas locker that is intended for this purpose. If there is room, also store light objects such as watering cans, hoses and buckets there. But don't try to be too creative when loading the Gas locker. After all, gas could flow out if the cylinder is not completely closed. This could cause a flammable gas/air mixture to form over time. If a spark gets near this mixture, there is a risk of explosion.

Therefore, for your own safety, observe these restrictions:

  • The opening at the bottom of the Gas locker must always be unobstructed. If gas flows from the cylinder, it can escape through this opening, as gas is heavier than air.
  • Do not carry any ignition sources in the Gas locker. This also includes objects where there is a risk of sparks forming. For example, tools must not be transported loosely: the individual parts could rub against each other while you’re driving and cause sparks.
  • Do not operate any electrical systems you installed yourself in the Gas locker. For example, it is not permitted to retrofit an electrical socket or light in the Gas locker. When you plug in a device or switch on the light, this could cause a spark and there would be a risk of explosion.

 

Taking bikes on your caravan holiday

Whether it’s a collapsible bike or a mountain bike: for many campers cycling is part of the holiday. While with a motor home bikes are usually transported in the rear storage compartment or on a rear bike rack, transporting bicycles with a caravan is a little more complicated. Because you’re towing the caravan, you can’t use a rack on the trailer coupling.

So, you have these options available:

  • Basically, bikes can be carried on a rear rack on the caravan. However, this has an adverse affect on driving stability and, consequently, on the safety of the car/caravan combination. Some campers have also reported that caravans can be damaged due to vibrations during the journey.
  • Depending on how many bikes you are taking with you, under certain circumstances, they could be stowed in the caravan. But make sure that you secure them well so that they cannot move around – and dirty the inside of the caravan with chain grease.
  • Bikes can also be transported on a towbar bike rack. The maximum vertical load at the coupling point must be observed. More caution is also required when manoeuvring: at tight angles, the bikes can damage the rear of the towing vehicle.
  • If your car is sufficiently large, you can transport your bikes in the towing vehicle. Otherwise, there is enough room on the roof – assuming you have a suitable roof-mounted carrier.
Stowing crockery in caravans and motor homes

When they are stowed in the caravan, crockery and cooking utensils usually remain where they are. Even so, we’ve put together a few suggestions so that you get the best use out of your cupboards. So that nothing slides around, line kitchen cabinets with non-slip matting.

  • Pack plates, cups, glasses in the cupboard under the ceiling.
  • Place the cutlery box with cutlery, kitchen knives, corkscrew, bottle opener, spatula, soup ladle in the top drawer.
  • Pots, pans, kettle, coffee machine, cutting board, beakers belong in the bottom kitchen drawers.
  • Store vinegar, oil, spices and some basic ingredients wherever there is space. Containers that can be closed tightly are suitable for transporting food. This applies also to open packs of milk and juice: do not assume that they are really tight.
  • Food and drink for the journey should be carried directly in the car. Bulk purchases can then be made at the holiday destination.

Full but not too full: weighing caravans

At last, everything is packed away. But that’s not all that counts. To be sure that the caravan is not overloaded, simply weigh it. You’ll find a caravan weighbridge by looking on your local Government council website.

To weigh it, detach your caravan from your car and place it completely on the weighbridge. The weight is displayed. So that during checks the police have no reason to complain, the permitted gross weight of the caravan and the permitted towing capacity of the towing vehicle must not be exceeded.

Vertical load and towbar capacity

The vertical load is the force that acts on the tow ball of the trailer coupling on the towing vehicle. The maximum vertical load is calculated by the manufacturer of the vehicle or caravan and is shown on a sticker or plate on the trailer coupling.

The same applies to the towbar capacity: this is calculated by the caravan manufacturer and is shown on the towbar. If the vertical load and towbar capacity differ, you must comply with the lower value.

How to check the towbar capacity of your caravan:

  • All you need is a bathroom scale and a square length of wood.
  • Place the scale on the ground beneath the towbar.
  • Place the wood vertically between the coupling jaw and the scale. The caravan must be horizontal.
  • Now you can read the towbar capacity on the scale.

If you'd prefer to make things easier, you can install a towbar jockey wheel with integrated display of the vertical load. This lets you see the ball pressure at a glance.

You should always comply with the permitted vertical load, as the car/caravan combination is then particularly stable on the road. Besides, exceeding or undershooting the vertical load can also be expensive.

You can influence the vertical load yourself simply by repacking the caravan. If the vertical load is too low, there is too much luggage in the rear. You then have to pack luggage in front of the axle. If the vertical load is too high, there is too much weight at the front of the caravan. In this case, you have to repack towards the rear, in other words, behind the axle.

Overweight caravans: these are the penalties

Don’t just trust that everything will be OK. Exceeding the vertical load and overloading the caravan is always at the expense of your own safety. And if that alone is not a convincing argument for complying with the specified limits, perhaps these figures speak for themselves:

  • In UK you pay a higher penalty the more the caravan is overloaded. 10% extra weight costs £60. From 10 – 15% the fine is £120. If you overload your caravan by more than 15%, you will pay a fine of £200.
  • Also in Germany you pay a higher penalty the more the caravan is overloaded. It starts with 5% extra weight, which costs €10. From 20% excess weight, the fine is €95. If you overload your caravan by more than 30%, you will pay a fine of €235. Holders of a German driver licence will also be recorded in the Flensburg Register of Driver Fitness. You don’t have to worry about having your licence suspended in Germany.
  • In Austria you will be fined if your caravan is 2% overloaded. Traffic tickets start at almost €40 and, according to the Austrian Camping Club, can be as high as €5,000.
  • In Switzerland there is zero tolerance. If you are stopped with an overloaded caravan, you have to pay 100 francs if you exceed the permitted gross weight by up to 100 kg. Overloading by 5% costs 200 francs.
  • In Italy overloading by more than 5% costs €39 to €159. Overloading in excess of 30% costs up to €1,600.
  • In France you’ll be fined up to €750 for infringements such as this.
  • Spain is tolerant to 5%, but from 6% you will be fined €301 and with more than 25% overloading it becomes rather expensive with fines up to €4,600.
  • In Denmark, for up to 3.5 tonnes permitted gross weight, as the driver you will be fined 10 kroner and as the vehicle owner 25 kroner for each percent overloading. That’s about €1.30 and €3.30 respectively.
  • The Swedes take this issue very seriously: from 1% overloading, you will be fined 2,000 kronor or about €200. If you overload your caravan by more than 41% you pay twice that.
  • Norway calculates in hundred kilograms. Each 100 kilograms of overloading costs 250 kroner, which is about €26.

Apart from the fine, the police will probably not allow you to continue driving. Then you have two choices: repack or unload. Only then can you continue travelling towards your relaxed holiday.

Tips: How to save weight

Sometimes, every single gram matters. Remember the following hints to save some weight:

  • Drive with an empty water tank and only fill it when you reach your holiday destination.
  • Take only enough food for the journey and do a food shop when you reach your destination. Finding local produce in the supermarkets there is also more fun.
  • Take an e-reader rather than books.
  • You can also save some weight when it comes to clothing: take only what you really need for your holiday and also make use of the laundry facilities at the camp site.
  • Instead of heavy terry cloth towels, microfibre towels are very suitable for a caravan holiday. They are especially light and also have the advantage of drying quickly.
  • Glass or plastic: for some people it is a question of faith when it comes to the type of glass they drink from and the plates they eat from. If you are not bothered, lightweight crockery made from plastic or Melamine is perfectly suitable.
  • Before you set out on your journey home, empty the cassette toilet and waste water.
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