14/08/2019
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The Ultimate Guide to Motor Movers

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Motor movers: Everything you need to know about remote control caravan manoeuvring

Words by John Sootheran

What is a motor mover?

A motor mover is an electronic device you fit to your caravan to enable you to ‘manoeuvre’ it remotely, using a handheld control.

It consists of two or four motor units (for single or twin axles), an electronic control unit, and of course, a handheld remote to control the manoeuvres.

Why do I need one?

Apart from being the coolest thing on any campsite, motor movers play a major part in stress reduction, both when manoeuvring on a tricky-to-access campsite pitch, and when positioning your tourer in a tight or awkward storage space at home.

A caravan fitted with a motor mover can almost turn on its own axis, so they’re perfect for moving a caravan into a tight spot, say, between a garage wall and a fence post. This has the added bonus of making the caravan far more difficult to remove, thereby increasing security.

Manoeuvres with a motor mover are slow and precise, so in tight spaces you’re much less likely to damage your tourer.

pushing a caravan without a motor mover

Every caravanner’s worst nightmare is having to manoeuvre onto a difficult campsite pitch with half the site watching you from their deck chairs! A mover eliminates these worries and may also save wear and tear on your towcar’s clutch, especially if the pitch access is sloping.

Once you’re close to your pitch, unhitch the caravan and lower the jockey wheel, turn on the mover’s master switch, engage the rollers, then release the handbrake and use the handheld remote to ‘drive’ the caravan perfectly onto the pitch – wherever you are!

Remember that the further you manoeuvre your caravan, the more power you will sap from your leisure battery.

Movers are also handy for precisely manoeuvring onto levelling ramps on sloping caravan pitches, and for aligning the receptors for Al-Ko wheel locks.

How do they work?

Using a motor mover on a caravan

The remote control is linked to the mover’s computer system via radio waves, meaning the caravan can be ‘driven’ using the handset. Generally, buttons with direction arrows on are pressed to pilot the caravan in the desired direction.

The caravan’s wheels can be activated independently, so, for a really tight turn, the wheel(s) on one side will roll forward, while the wheel opposite will stay still.

Motor movers require 12V electricity from a caravan’s leisure battery to power the rollers. Never use a mover with the caravan’s electrics connected to the mains or campsite hook-up, as this will damage the system.

Where does a motor mover go on the caravan?

Motor mover fitted on a caravan

Traditional motor movers are bolted to the caravan’s chassis next to the wheel(s). Typically, they hang below the chassis, but there are two drawbacks to this:
  1. They get very dirty as corrosive water, dirt and salt are sprayed off the tyre straight onto them.
  2. As they hang below the chassis member, they lower the ground clearance of the caravan and are in a prime position to be struck by a speed bump, raised ironwork or if a wheel drops into a deep pothole.

Al-Ko’s Mammut motor mover counters these issues by being fitted on the side of the chassis member, therefore giving four to six inches (10-15cm) of extra ground clearance.

Things to consider when buying a motor mover

Ground clearance. As mentioned, the distance from the Tarmac to the base of the mover is crucial to minimise the chances of damage. Four inches (10cm) should be an absolute minimum, but six to eight inches (15-20cm) is better.

Weight

Motor movers are heavy items. A typical single-axle kit can weigh around 30kg, which is 30kg less payload to play with. If you also carry an awning, furniture and, say, bicycles, you can soon be on your way to blowing 100kg of payload!

Of course, a twin-axle mover system almost doubles this!

Note: You may want to consider 're-plating' your caravan, if you find you have insufficient payload. This process gives your caravan a higher MTPLM weight threshold, and therefore more payload.

Battery choice

Checking the battery is motor mover fit

Most motor mover manufacturers recommend powering them with a minimum 110 ampere/hour (100Ah) leisure battery.

These batteries can cost in excess of £100, and can be significantly bigger than a typical 70 or 80Ah battery. Not only does this mean they weigh more, but they are physically larger, too, so check that they will fit into your battery compartment before you commit to purchasing one.

Be aware that it is illegal and dangerous to custom-fit a leisure battery within the living space of your tourer (say, in an under-seat space), they should always be in a separate compartment, sealed off from the living quarters, and with good ventilation.

Always budget for one of these more-expensive batteries when you do your calculations.

Cabling

motor mover cabling

Aim to keep cable runs to the motors a similar length. Do not coil excess cable tightly, as this can result in heat build-up.

Tyre damage

Don’t leave your mover’s grooved rollers pressing into the tyres for long periods, as you may cause permanent misshaping and an annoying flat spot. Likewise, ensure that the rollers are withdrawn from the tyre before you begin towing. Some movers have fail-safe systems built in to prevent this potentially dangerous faux pas.

Buying second hand

Used motor mover on eBay

Motor movers can be successfully purchased secondhand. All the usual ‘buyer beware’ advice applies, and you are unlikely to get any sort of warranty. That said, many reputable caravan dealerships will remove good motor movers from caravans taken in part exchange and offer them as an optional extra or incentive on another new or used tourer.

Motor movers are relatively simple pieces of equipment, so there is little to go wrong on one that is well maintained. Like any piece of kit, taking time to make sure it’s running as it should be is essential.

If you’ve invested anywhere from £500 to £2,000 in a motor mover, you may want to take it with you when you change caravans. This makes perfect sense and is relatively easy to arrange, though you should budget around £200 for a technician to do it.

A relatively handy/technical person, with basic tools to hand, could remove and refit a motor mover themselves (see below).

How much does a motor mover cost?

The cheapest movers are refurbished ones and cost from around £450. You’ll want to make sure yours comes with at least one-year warranty.

Budget new mover systems cost from around £600, for a recognised brand with warranty. Cheaper new makes may be available on the internet (from the Far East), but we can’t recommend them.

Expect to pay up to £1,200 for a top-notch single-axle system and around £2,000 for a top-quality twin-axle system. Always haggle, and look at some of the great motor mover deals when buying a new ’van.

How do I get one fitted?

Approved Workshop Scheme

Your local dealership will be able to fit your motor mover in under half a day. Negotiate the fitting price, before you buy the unit (remember battery requirements).

As always, we recommend NCC-approved, AWS-level technicians and workshops to carry out any major work on your caravan, as this will ensure you maintain any warranty cover.

Can I fit a motor mover?

Fitting a motor mover

Yes, if you are a ‘practical type’ with decent technical knowledge. You will only require a range of basic tools to do the job. Typically, that will include a ratchet set, spanners, screwdrivers, drill, rubber mallet, tape measure, pencil and hammer. Plus sealant, trunking and cable ties. This isn’t for everyone!

But, if you want to learn how to fit a mover yourself, read our article here.

Other caravan moving options

Fitted units are, by far, the most popular form of motor mover, but devices with small ‘caterpillar tracks’ that attach to your jockey wheel, such as the Camper Trolley mover, and entirely separate motorised units that attach to your caravan hitch, like the Multi-Mover, are available.

The latter, in particular will not add to your tourer’s weight, and so is ideal if you just need help in manoeuvring your ’van into its safe space at home.

What about maintenance?

Caravan motor movers need relatively little maintenance, other than regular cleaning and lubrication, particularly of moving parts like the roller bearings, and slide-out actuator mechanism. Visual checks of under-’van wiring are recommended on an annual basis.

Also check the battery housing in your remote control for corrosion, particularly if it hasn’t been used for long periods through the winter.

How to extend your caravanning lifestyle

A motor mover is one of many devices and accessories that can help you extend your touring lifestyle as you get older and, perhaps, less able to undertake manual exertions, such as pushing and pulling your caravan into position. You my even develop the dexterous thumbs of the PlayStation generation!

What are the options?

Motor movers come in various sizes, styles and price ranges

Manual actuation v automatic actuation

The rollers on all motor movers slide out and press into the tyre tread for maximum contact and grip.

Many movers require the user to engage the rollers manually, by using a spanner or wrench to turn a hex-bar (either on a screw-thread or a cam-action), which slides the roller forwards.

More expensive models have automatic, electronic actuation, where the user simply presses a button on the remote and the rollers slide out in an automated fashion. These are great, but cost more and weigh slightly more.

Manually actuated movers tend to have the motors on each side connected by a long length of bar. This is so that, if the caravan is stored very close to a wall, you only have to access one side to actuate both rollers, as, when you turn one side with your wrench, the other side turns, too. This is not an issue with automated actuation.

Motor mover on twin axle caravan

Single-axle or twin-axle models
    • Motor movers are available as single or twin-axle kits. A single-axle caravan only requires two motor units (one on each side), while a twin-axle tourer generally has four (one in front of the forward tyre and another behind the rear tyre). That said, we have seen twin-axle ’vans with just one motor on each side and they work perfectly well.
  • Soft-start technology
    • The latest movers feature soft-start technology. This introduces the power slowly, resulting in much gentler acceleration and preventing anything from being shaken up or moved inside the caravan. You don’t want the sediment in that lovely Rioja stirred up, do you?!

Top tips for motor mover owners

  • Don’t store you mover remote control in the caravan. Keep it safe in a warm dry place, always keep spare batteries, and whatever you do, DON’T forget to take it with you!
  • If you DIY fit your motor mover, try to keep the length of cabling to each side roughly the same. This may mean coiling a metre or two of cable neatly within one of the underseat storage areas.
  • Always fit a ‘master switch’ to the motor mover, to avoid slowly draining your leisure battery, when the caravan is not in use.
  • Keep your motor mover clean and well maintained, lubricating the actuation system.
  • When running cable through the apertures in the caravan chassis protect the cable from rubbing with some short lengths of protective trunking/tubing.

If DIY-fitting a motor mover, try to run cabling through existing holes or drop-out vents to avoid drilling more holes in your caravan. Seal around any cable holes with mastic sealant to prevent water ingress.

Occasionally, aluminium mover housings can have a ‘bi-metallic reaction’ when in contact with galvanized steel chassis members. This can promote corrosion. However, this corrosion is only superficial and shouldn’t be a problem.

What sort of warranty will I get?

Most manufacturers confidently offer five-year warranties on their products. Some of these may be extended warranties with a fee attached. As these tend to be insurance-backed warranties, read the small print before signing.

Always ask what service is available, should you have a problem away from home and check what the warranty covers.

Do they last long?

A good-quality, well-maintained motor mover, could easily last a decade or longer.

Which mover makes are best?

There’s a wide range of excellent motor mover brands available in the UK, but also many cheap systems that you can buy online. While the budget movers may not necessarily be poor quality, we would recommend buying one of the better-known and trusted brands, including:

Powrtouch technical team

The team explain how and why motor movers work for you!

Have you ever tried…

  • Hitching up: reversing your car to line up the towball with your caravan?
  • Pitching your caravan on a tight and awkward pitch?
  • Levelling your caravan onto levelling ramps?
  • Moving your caravan into a difficult parking spot?
  • Lining up the wheels of your caravan with your security hitch lock?

Manoeuvring the caravan is not always possible with the car; certain surfaces, inclines and tight spots make your caravan difficult to manhandle. With a motor mover the above is made so much easier. Powrtouch has designed a millimetre by millimetre mover range capable of climbing a 25% slope with 2,000kg.

Which mover should I choose?

  • Single, Twin or AWD?
    • Powrtouch has designed a range to suit every caravan; single or twin-axle with an automatic or manual feature. Turning is the main point to consider. The Powrtouch Freedom range is for single-axle caravans up to a weight of 1,500kg on a 25% slope.
    • The Evolution range is recommended for the heavier caravan either for single, twin-axle or all wheel drive with manual or automatic engagement feature. An AWD has superior turning ability for tight spots. You might want to consider future-proofing in case you want to upgrade your caravan later down the line.
  • Automatic or manual?
    • Engagement to the tyres can be manual using a wrench, or automatic using a remote handset. A mover with manual engagement can engage both sides of the caravan from one side. It is easy to use for most caravan owners, with just a single movement. An automatic mover has actuator motors to move the rollers on and off the wheels. It is simple to use – pressing two buttons, no effort required if the manual mover is impractical due to health issues.
  • Weight?
    • Powrtouch movers weigh from 35kg, they add just 3-4kg to the noseweight.
  • Energy source?
    • The mover takes its power from a leisure battery, which you should already have fitted to your caravan.
  • How do I look after the mover?
    • Maintenance is quite simple on most movers on the market – keep the mover clean and every six months grease the mover (follow appropriate instructions). Successful operation is dependent on a good battery. Keep the caravan leisure battery topped up.
    • The mover can operate at voltages below 12V, but it does have an automatic cut-out when the voltage drops to 11V. Keep the battery above 12V. When not in use for long periods consider taking the caravan battery out of the caravan and top up occasionally with a bench changer.
    • Also, remember to take the battery out of the remote control.

Can I fit my motor mover or swap my existing one onto my new caravan?

Yes, you can do both. It’s relatively easy for anyone who’s handy with a spanner.

What are the latest mover developments?

Soft-start technology makes precision manoeuvring much easier (no dented bumpers) and could save the family china! It’s incorporated in many of the high-quality movers on the market.

Given that motor movers are located next to the wheel with all the associated grime and the dirt, the very best materials must be used to ensure longevity. For example, Powrtouch uses an aircraft-grade aluminium alloy, diamond- cut precision-machined castings, Alocrome treatment post-machining, durable powder coating, heat-treated high-strength steel gears, hi- torque four-pole motor and a super grip aluminium roller. All combine with British design and manufacture.

Light and durable alloys and clever gearbox designs are making the latest movers much lighter than their predecessors.

Advanced mover technology is also making new units much lighter. The e-go range is 28% lighter than comparable units, giving you greater usable payload.

The latest movers, like some of those from Truma, feature three-phase brushless motors which feedback to the control circuitry, so that it always knows what the motors are doing. The result is an efficient and super-sensitive mover that can even trap an egg without breaking it and one that will manoeuvre straight, even if one or more wheels is going over obstacles.

Reich has some of the strongest movers on the market. You can control some via a smartphone app, just in case you can't find the remote control.

Brushless DC motors used in some movers create far more torque than traditional motors with carbon brushes. Truma’s XT is one unit that uses this technology.

You can upgrade some e-go units retrospectively, e.g., transform a two unit system into an all-wheel drive four-unit system, thus future-proofing it should you get a bigger van.

One way of getting more power out of a given DC motor is to fit four poles instead of the normal two. In essence, this means an extra pair of stationary windings and brushes. This type of motor consumes more current but produces much more power. Powrtouch and others incorporate this design into their latest units.

You mentioned another style of motor mover

Campertrolley

Indeed, we did. Caravan cover guru, Pro-Tec, sells a compact demountable mover called Camper Trolley. The unit fits a pre-installed fixing on the caravan's A-frame. This mover has a lithium ion battery, runs on rubber ‘tank’ tracks, and you control it remotely.

The benefit of this design is that it doesn’t require complicated fitting and you can transport in the towcar, so it doesn’t affect your payload allowance. On the downside, the Camper Trolley may struggle for traction on slopes and slippery surfaces without you applying sufficient nose weight.

Anything else I need to know about motor movers?

Yes, don’t use the mover while you’re plugged into the mains recharging your leisure battery, as you’re likely to blow part of the circuitry.

Motor movers are incredibly powerful, so ensure that there's nothing in the way of the caravan, and don't forget to take the handbrake off, before you activate it.

Always put the handbrake on before disengaging the rollers, unless you have chocked the wheels.

Manoeuvring a caravan using a remote control is so simple that it’s easy to overlook small ground features that could cause issues. For example, a jockey wheel that’s bogged down in soft sand or shingle, or an impact with a kerbstone can cause significant stress and potential damage to a caravan chassis or, at best, a bent jockey wheel.

Consider using a heavy-duty jockey wheel with your motor mover, preferably with a pneumatic tyre.

Could you just sum up the pros and cons of a motor mover?

Benefits

  • Ease of manoeuvring
  • The show-off factor
  • Extending caravanning years for older, less mobile caravanners
  • Put your caravan places a towcar can’t
  • Longer clutch life
  • Fewer divorces!
  • Less chance of caravan damage

Things to consider

  • The cost
  • The maintenance
  • The weight
  • The battery requirements
  • Ground clearance
  • Theft/Security
  • Access to the jacking points and spare wheel?

For lots more motor mover information go, read our article about fitting a motor mover here.

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