Get your caravan set for summer
One of the great feelings is when the end of winter is in sight and you can almost taste spring; the days are getting longer, spring bulbs are starting to appear and those wood fires you could smell all over winter are beginning to be replaced by the occasional scent of blossom.
And one of the biggest pleasures is retrieving the caravan from wherever it has been stored through the winter months (assuming you haven’t carried on using it, of course), and preparing it ready for the start of the touring season.
There are several key tasks that need to be looked at before you can hitch up and head off and these are what we reckon to be the most important to get your caravan ready for the road.
Get your caravan serviced
Irrespective of how capable you are as a DIYer or a home mechanic, we would always recommend that you get the caravan serviced professionally every year before you head out for your first trip.
We covered the subject of giving your caravan a service here. According to the Approved Workshop Scheme, an independent joint venture between the National Caravan Council, the Caravan and Motorhome Club and the Camping and Caravanning Club, it will ensure that all the caravan’s systems are safe and ready for use.
For example, a full service will check over the chassis; the electrics, wheels, tyres, brakes and the hitch as well as the corner steadies to make sure it is safe and efficient for travelling.
It will also check over the gas and electric systems (12V and 230V) to make sure they work safely and there are no leaks, for example. It will do the same for the hot and cold water systems, and issue a certificate to provide proof of the necessary work.
This is invaluable for new or young caravans, as the scheme is recognised by the major British manufacturers and all work undertaken complies with the relevant warranties.
You can read more expert caravan advice on practical and technical issues using our digital content archive. Use the search bar below to browse articles from Caravan magazine dating right back to February 2013:
Reinstate your caravan’s leisure battery
If you followed our advice on storing your caravan over winter, your battery has been safely tucked up in the garage and on charge for the last few months.
So, take it out to the caravan and connect it up (prior to the service). Apply a smear of grease to the terminals to prevent them furring up and carry out a system check prior to the service to make sure all is well.
Check the voltage with the on-board meter (all caravans should have some way of checking this) to make sure it is reading around 12.8V – if not and it’s been on charge over winter, get it checked – it might need replacing and you don’t want to find that out when the lights or the toilet pump die when you most need them.
Flush and sterilise your water system
Even though the water system should have been drained down and empty while in storage, many people, myself included, like to sterilise it at the start of a new season. It’s a simple process anyone with children will be familiar with.
You need a bottle of sterilising fluid and I generally fill my water barrel with the appropriate concentration of fluid (sterilising it in the process) and run the solution through the hot and cold water systems until it comes out of all the taps, starting with the farthest from the pump.
I then shut the taps off and leave it in the pipework overnight to completely sterilise the system before flushing it through with clean, fresh water. I do this for the cold and the hot water system, including the hot water heater and for both water pumps (the caravan came with two, for some reason – always handy to have a spare…).
I also give the grey water tank a quick flush with some sterilising solution; not essential but again, it helps to stave off any unpleasant smells that may develop.
Check/refill gas bottles
Again, if you followed our advice, you will have stored your gas bottles somewhere out of the worst of the winter weather. Now’s the time to get them out and try to work out how much gas is in each bottle.
You can shake them to get a feel for how much is in there (it is stored as a liquid in the bottle, as it’s under pressure) but a more reliable way is a simple magnetic level indicator that senses the temperature difference between the liquid gas and the vapour above it and shows a line that marks the level of the liquid.
The most accurate way, though, is to weigh the bottles – the weight of the empty steel cylinder (assuming you’re using the usual red Calor propane cylinders) should be displayed on a disc around the filler – known as the tare weight. This may be in kg but more likely in pounds and ounces.
You’ll need to convert to kilogrammes and then, weigh the bottle. The difference between the tare weight and the measured weight is the amount of gas you have in the bottle. The weight of the gas in a full bottle is the amount painted on the side.
Check the toilet operation
Like the fresh water system, the toilet and its associated plumbing should be checked out so that you find any issues before you leave home, rather than when you’re caught short.
Again, some might think it’s a bit overkill but I sterilise the flush system, just because I like to know there are no bad odours likely to develop and I also clean out the waste cassette again (I did this before laying the caravan up) with proper waste-cassette cleaning solution.
Test/run the heating
Anyone who has fired up a heater after it has been out of use for a while will be familiar with the smell of hot dust, so you might want to start it up and run it for a little while to burn off any traces that may have accumulated on the radiating surfaces while in storage.
If you have blown-air heating, check that the motor works properly and blows warm, not cool, air around the caravan so if it doesn’t, you have time to get it rectified before the middle of a freezing cold first night away.
Check for leaks and damp
Before tackling the cleaning operation, it’s worth having a check around to make sure nothing has leaked while the caravan has been in storage. Open up all the high-level cupboards and have a look to make sure you can’t see any tell-tale marks of water ingress or staining. Also have a feel, as the hand can tell you a lot about the surface in question.
Do the same for the lower cupboards and the underseat lockers, to make sure they, too, haven’t allowed any water in or accumulated any damp.
If you want to be completely certain, a damp meter is not expensive and you can use it to probe any areas you feel might have attracted moisture over the winter.
This should form part of the habitation check during the service but it doesn’t hurt to have a meter, especially if you are looking at buying a caravan at any time.
Give your caravan a spring clean
It should go without saying that before you even think about heading away, you should give the caravan - inside and out – a thorough clean.
On the outside, start from the top and work down, using low-pressure, high-flow water from a hose, rather than a pressure washer. Rinse the worst of any foreign material off the caravan, then use a proper caravan cleaner to get rid of dirt and the residue of the winter.
You can get cleaning products that contain an element of wax protection but by far the best way is to give the exterior a good polish and wax if you are so inclined – it can be hard work but it will give the best protection and mean that the next time you come to clean it, it’s a lot easier.
Wait for a warm, breezy sunny day and open up all the doors and windows, the roof vents and the cupboard doors and give the interior a really good airing. There may be some musty smells from a few months of being sealed against the outside world but a few hours open to the early spring sunshine should soon have them dispelled.
If you can, get the cushions outside in the sun as well – everything appreciates a little bit of fresh air – cushions included.
As you did outside, the inside will also benefit from a good clean; the surfaces, sink and basin, a good cooker and oven clean (even though you did this before laying it up), and of course, the toilet and washroom.
Vacuum the soft furnishings and if you’re really picky, take the curtains in the house and put them through a cool wash in the machine or hand wash them, depending on the material.
Finally, give the floor a good vacuuming or clean depending on whether it’s carpet or vinyl and you’re good to go.
Stock the caravan up
Once you’re satisfied that everything is ready, it’s the best bit – stocking the caravan up ready to go away. I usually move all the bedding in at this stage – I make the kids’ bunks and stow the grown-ups’ under the main seating area with the seat bases raised a little to allow some much-needed ventilation.
I also stock up the bathroom with the necessaries – toilet paper and chemicals, handwash, new toothbrushes for everyone (we know how to live…), and deodorants.
In the kitchen area, I wash all the crockery, cutlery, pots and pans and mugs and glasses to make sure they’re ready to go and load up with some essentials that can live in the caravan all summer; rice, pasta, mini boxes of cereal, cans of drink for the kids, bigger cans of drink for the grown-ups, bottles of wine… all the essentials.
By this point, the caravan is ready to go as soon as we are; if it looks nice, we pick the kids up from school, hitch up and we’re off. Roll on summer…