Caravan Covers: Which one?
Whole-caravan covers and those that protect the front when towing; there are lots of options. Our technical writer, Terry Owen, guides you on how to choose the right caravan cover.
Caravan covers do a great job of protecting your precious investment from the elements but, with so many to choose from, where do you start?
Caravan covers fall into two main types - those used for storage and those used to protect the front of the caravan when towing.
Universal vs. semi-tailored vs. fully tailored
Storage covers come in three distinct types: universal (sometimes called 'off the peg'), semi-tailored and fully tailored.
Manufacturers make universal covers according to the approximate length and width of a caravan. Quite often there are no easy means of accessing the caravan when the cover is on, but the rear corners of some of these covers may come apart to help.
Fitting this type of cover is a bit like wrapping a parcel with paper that's about the right size, but you may need lots of string (i.e. straps).
On the plus side, prices for universal covers start at under £100 for a caravan of about four metres in body length.
Ahove: This entry level cover from Explorer is kept tight by fore and aft straps in addition to those running underneath. Don't beconfused by the second cover placed on top of it
Next up in price come the semi-tailored covers. They are for specific makes of caravan whereby the front and rear profiles may be unique to that make.
As you might expect they fit much better than universal types, but there is no provision for protruding items on the roof, and any access flap may not line up with the doorway. Prices start at about £200.
Above: A semi-tailored offering has an access panel, but it does not line up with the door on this caravan
If you want the best possible fit and easy access to the inside of your caravan, then the answer is a fully tailored cover. These will also allow for roof protrusions such as TV aerials and any other equipment you caravan may have.
Fully tailored covers are naturally more expensive as they are made to order against a pattern held for each specific caravan. Prices start at about £300.
Above: There's nothing like the fit of a well-tailored cover
How to fit a storage cover
While it's possible for one person to fit a caravan storage cover, the operation is very much simpler with two people. The general idea is to have one person each side of the caravan lifting the cover up over the roof with the aid of poles or something like a brush on a long handle. You start at the front and work backwards. Once the cover is on, straps are used to hold it n place.
Never fit a cover to a dirty caravan as scratching could result. Another possibility is the development of 'tiger stripes' where constant flapping of the cover against the side of the caravan can polish through any thin layer of grime to produce a mottled effect, not unlike the stripes on a tiger. The lines can be made to disappear with the careful use of a suitable cleaning compound, but it's best not to let them develop in the first place.
Preventing the lines means getting the caravan's bodywork spotless, and ideally giving it a coat of polish before you fit the cover. It also means carefully tensioning all the straps to reduce flapping and using any foam cushioning supplied with the cover following the instructions.
Caravan towing covers
Towing covers have become increasingly popular in recent years. It’s not pleasant to set off with a nice clean caravan only to arrive at a site to find the front filthy with road muck or even stone-damaged. The answer is a towing cover. These can provide excellent protection while being easy to use.
Towing covers are quite easy for one person to fit although two will speed things up quite a bit. The better ones come in three pieces with the outer two sliding into the awning rail at each side and the main panel attaching to them with straps or zips. Where you have zips, the side panels are elasticated and provide a neat appearance. Elasticated clips hold the bottom in place to the valence or, in some cases, a strap under the A-frame.
The cheapest, at less than £100, are the one-size-fits-all, or universal, covers. They may not look pretty, but they do the job and are ideal for those on a tight budget. The cover might obscure the front road lights, but this is not necessarily illegal. To be on the safe side, some universal cover suppliers provide self-powered LED lights that fit into designated pockets.
Left: The straps attach directly to the awning rail on this entry level cover from Vancoover
Spend a bit more, and you'll get a three-piece generic cover offering better protection. These fit a broad range of caravans. The one shown here from Pro-tec comes in at about £145. Once again, they might obscure your road lights.
Above: Pro-tec's generic range of covers
Next, come the tailor-made covers. These are specific to individual makes and model ranges of a caravan. They will not cover the road lights, and there may even be access to the grab handles. Naturally, this level of detail costs a bit more, with pricing starting at about £175.
If you want to push the boat out, you could go for the Tow Pro Elite from Specialised Covers. The Elite cover has foam body armour for superior stone protection and a very smooth appearance. It's for the harsh conditions in the Australian outback. Expect to pay about £400.
Above: This Tow Pro Elite cover from Specialised Covers even provides zip access for the grab handles
Above: Some towing covers can remain in place when the caravan is in use
Materials of construction
Whatever the intended use of the cover it's important the material does not harm the caravan in any way. For storage use, the cover must not only be waterproof, but it must also be able to breathe to reduce the chance of condensation forming under it.
All these requirements mean that good caravan covers are made from several layers, or plies, of material. Three is the norm, but manufacturers use up to five layers, in some models.
A simple test measures water resistance whereby the testers seal a column of water contained in a pipe which they seal to the material. The maximum height of the column before the material leaks is the used as a measure of its water resistance.
The makers achieve water resistance, and breathability using a micro-porous breathable membrane film, usually forming the middle layer of a three-layer sandwich. The membrane contains thousands of tiny holes, each too small to allow water molecules to pass through, but able to transmit the much smaller molecules found in air.
Above: the green outer layer repels water helped by a breathable membrane underneath. The white material is the soft underside
The outer material should be pliable but durable and able to withstand prolonged exposure to the sun without degrading or changing colour. The inner material should be very soft and non-abrasive but resistant to tears. It's also important that none of the layers leaches any colour that could stain the caravan.
Zips vs. Velcro
Zips or Velcro fasteners are often used to make storage covers easier to fit or to provide access panels for doorways. The problem with zips is that they can damage bodywork in windy conditions if you don't protect them adequately. Look out for the protection if you're considering a storage cover that uses zips. Also, Velcro is easier and quicker to use, although it will not provide the same level of strength.
Zips used with elasticated sides on towing covers are not a problem as the tension of the elastic prevents any flapping.
Cleaning a caravan cover
Yosu should carefully wash covers if you want to avoid damage. Warm water combined with a soft brush or sponge is the best way to start. This method should get rid of most marks. You can use a hosepipe, but power washers are likely to cause damage if used too close.
Above: Warm water and a sponge are good for cleaning covers
It's best to avoid detergents and chemicals because they can block the pores of the breathable membrane. Pure soap is reckoned to be all right as long as it's thoroughly dissolved. Never put a cover in a washing machine.
Storage covers and condensation
There is a school of thought that caravan storage covers can cause condensation in the winter months by stopping the natural air circulation that would otherwise occur. Undoubtedly there will be some reduction in airflow, but as long at the cover is breathable this should not be a problem.
It's always a good idea to leave internal lockers open to encourage air circulation regardless of whether you have a cover fitted. Another sensible precaution is to ensure the curtains do not remain in contact with the windows or blinds. In the author's experience over a long hard winter where the caravan stayed covered throughout, condensation was not a problem, and that was without using any heating.
Above: Covers came to the rescue during this winter building project
It may be stating the obvious but under no circumstances should you use any gas appliances when you fit a caravan storage cover - fumes could quickly build to toxic levels. Any gas bottles on board should be turned off at the valve on top of the bottle. If you want to run the caravan's heating, make sure it's set to run on electricity.
Read here about storing your caravan when you don't need it over the winter.