A guide to caravan servicing and habitation checks
Words: Jim Blackstock
Regular maintenance of your caravan is essential for many reasons – whether it's a brand-new model or one that's a few years old.
Making sure your caravan is in tip-top shape not only means it should do everything you want it to without letting you down, it will also do it in complete safety, whether you’re on the road or set up on site and relaxing.
There are two main types of service for a caravan – a mechanical condition check of the chassis and running gear with repairs subsequently carried out as necessary, and a habitation check of the gas, electrical and water systems.
Each does something different but, together, they verify every aspect of the caravan to make sure it is safe and reliable. We spoke to the Approved Workshop Scheme to get a rundown of what is checked and why, so you know what to expect from your next caravan service.
Chassis and Running Gear
Ensuring the chassis is in tip-top health is crucial to check the caravan is roadworthy and capable of sustaining you on a trip and in isolation; this is known as a ‘Chassis and Running Gear Service’.
One of the most important systems here is the brakes and to check their condition and operation, the wheels and brake drums are removed and the brake shoes and the operating mechanism inspected to make sure they are working properly.
This extends to the breakaway cable, the actuating linkages and the reversing system while the wheel bearings and the suspension components – the spring and damper assembly – are also checked to ensure there is no abnormal wear or play in the bearings and the dampers are not leaking.
Finally, it is reassembled with new hub nuts, as these are single-use only – you can have the old ones as souvenirs if you want!
An inspection of the chassis itself is also carried out and the operation of the corner steadies is checked, to make sure there is no play or damage and they are greased to ensure smooth, corrosion-free use.
The jockey wheel operation and condition are also looked at to make sure it works as intended and the wheel or pneumatic tyre is not damaged.
Finally, the road tyres are inspected for age (ideally, no older than seven years – a four-digit number on the sidewall shows the week and year they were manufactured), and for splits or other damage, as well as correct operating pressure and tread depth and condition.
Caravan habitation checks
With the ‘mechanical’ work done, it’s time for what is generally known as a ‘Habitation check’. This is more focused towards the safety of occupants when the caravan is set up and concerns gas, electricity, water and condition of the caravan.
Look at the gas system first, the technicians will check the condition of the gas hardware – the hoses, regulators, valves and manifolds. They will also make sure that the gas compartment – sealed from the caravan’s interior and fitted with a drop-vent to allow any leaking gas to escape (it’s heavier than air so the vent will be at the bottom of the gas locker) – seals properly and the gas bottles are adequately secured.
They will also carry out a leak test, which involves pressurising the system and monitoring this pressure over a period of time, to ensure it doesn’t fall, indicating a leak somewhere in the system.
If there is evidence of a leak, then this would be reported back to the owner and, generally, once given approval, the technician would begin the process of locating and eliminating any leaks, though this would be outside the scope of the habitation check and likely incur an additional cost for repairs.
The technician will also test the gas components and appliances for operation and safety – that they ignite safely and promptly, that the flame-failure devices work and, as necessary, advise or carry out minor repairs such as replacing a battery for a heater auto-ignitor, as they work through the system.
This would include the cooker, fridge, heater, water heater and the operation of the smoke detector and carbon monoxide (CO) detector, both of which must be present and operational.
Moving on to the electrical system, the towing electrics – either based on twin seven-pin sockets or the single 13-pin – are checked to confirm operation of not only the caravan’s lights but also the on-board electrical systems when connected to the tow vehicle (a test rig is used by the technician).
The location and condition of the leisure battery is checked, as is the fuse board. The 240V hook-up system is also inspected, from the input socket through the master residual current device (RCD), individual breakers in the consumer unit, the earth circuit and the wiring itself.
The operation of all appliances is also verified, including fridge, heater, blown-air systems and mains-powered water heaters and air-conditioners if fitted.
The water system is also given a thorough going-over, not only for effective operation but also for leaks or blockages. The pump and inlet are checked for flow, while all pipes are looked at to make sure none are leaking.
Switches on the relevant taps are tested for flow and the hot and cold water operation of the taps is also verified, as is the flow and fill of any hot water heater. Toilets are also checked for flush-water flow and sealing.
Finally, the caravan’s structure and fixtures and fittings are assessed; the condition of the bodywork, the interior trim and operation of windows, roof vents and all blinds and flyscreens, and a damp meter is used to look for water ingress at usual locations.
How long, how much
Typically, a full service and habitation check on a single-axle caravan will take in the region of four hours and a little longer for a twin-axle. You should expect a copy of the Service Check Sheet and Damp Report to confirm the work that has been done, which will form part of the service history of the caravan.
The technician will also stamp any relevant service paperwork to prove the work has been done within the requirements of the caravan’s warranty. In terms of cost, these will vary from technician to technician and whether mobile or in-house but if you budget from £200 to £300 for the full service and habitation check (but without any additional repairs), you shouldn’t be too surprised by the bill.
For complete peace of mind, we would recommend you use a caravan technician, whether mobile or based in a workshop, that is part of the Approved Workshop Scheme.
Recognised by the major British manufacturers so work complies with relevant warranties, the independent scheme has been in operation for 40 years and is a joint enterprise between the National Caravan Council, the Caravan and Motorhome Club and the Camping and Caravanning Club.
There are some 520 members around the UK which are independently assessed annually against a set of guidelines to ensure Approved Workshop Scheme compliance is achieved. Approved workshops can be found on the website approvedworkshops.co.uk