13/01/2020
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Motorhome safety and security

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If you’ve bought a motorhome recently then it should have come with a whole host of safety equipment as standard. However, there’s always room for improvement and there are lots of accessories that will give added safety and security... and peace of mind while you’re off on your touring adventures. Let's take a closer look at some of the basic steps you can take to help improve the safety and security of your motorhome or campervan.

Theft of your motorhome or campervan

If you have a Fiat Ducato-based vehicle built after 2002 it will have an immobiliser built into the ECU, which drastically reduces the chance of it being stolen. However, it can still be stolen by towing it away or by someone stealing your keys.

So, always keep your keys in a safe place in your house. If you have a motorhome or campervan with keyless entry, the keys broadcast a radio signal that tells the vehicle to unlock the doors when the key is close. Thieves have access to a box of tricks that can copy and mimic this signal, so keep the keys stored as far away as possible from the vehicle in a Faraday pouch (or key-shielding pouch). These are widely available from as little as £5.

Even if you have an immobiliser fitted, consider using a visual physical theft deterrent such as a steering wheel shield or a wheel clamp. Look for Thatcham - approved security items by visiting thatcham.org

These can be circumvented by a thief, but it takes time and effort.

It’s also worth considering a tracking device. These can range from all-singing-and-dancing insurance company-approved models that cost £500 to fit, plus an annual subscription, to simple mobile phone-based models that cost as little as £60 – plus an annual subscription – and can be fitted in minutes with a simple two-wire connection. Most have a ‘geo fence’ system that will text or email you if your vehicle moves outside a preset zone, as well as a vibration/lifting alarm.

A motorhome tracking device

Theft from your motorhome or campervan

Most modern motorhomes are fitted with an alarm system and, if yours isn’t, there are all manner of alarm systems available that offer various levels of excruciatingly noisy sirens to deafen would-be thieves.

The key thing to look for is alarm systems that contact you in some way when they are triggered – either by a phone call or text. As many motorhomes are left unattended on campsites while you’re exploring – and few bypassers pay much attention to vehicle alarms – this is important.

Equally, don’t leave your valuables on show when you’re away from the vehicle and don’t leave any windows, doors or roof vents open. The vehicle needs to look as empty as possible to onlookers and you might even want to shut all the side windows to stop prying eyes peering in (though some people reckon that this advertises that you’re away from your motorhome).

Always remove standalone sat-nav units from the windscreen and wipe any sucker marks off the glass. If you don’t take these items with you when you’re away from the vehicle, it’s wise to invest in a safe that’s securely mounted to the vehicle floor.

Preventing fire in your motorhome or campervan

The Caravan and Motorhome Club reckons that the minimum space between vehicle walls should be six metres to prevent the spread of fire, so try and observe this whenever you’re on a campsite that lacks allocated pitches.

While fire-retardant trim materials are mandatory on all modern motorhomes, there are still lots of flammable materials on a typical motorhome and you’ll invariably increase the risk of fire spreading when you add typical touring kit such as foodstuffs, clothing and paper-based materials. As all motorhomes are trimmed from wall to wall, fires can soon escalate in them.

There are two main sources of fires on motorhomes: direct flame fires and electrical fires. The former item is generally caused by cooking fires or standalone heaters (such as free-standing gas canister models or halogen element units) that come into contact with something combustible.

Electrical fires are difficult to contain and isolating the batteries, or unhooking from the mains hook-up bollard are the safest first steps.

Smoke detectors are essential and are standard in most new motorhomes and campervans. If you don’t have one then get one. It’s also vital to check the batteries before every trip and renew them if needed. Don’t use rechargeable batteries as their discharge pattern isn’t best suited to smoke alarms.

If the worst should happen and you need to tackle a fire, the first step is to get everyone out of the vehicle.

The type of fire you have will determine the best action to take. Fire types are classed alphabetically: A indicates organic material (wood, textiles, paper, etc); B is for flammable liquids (petrol, diesel, solvents); C is for butane and propane; D is for flammable metals; and F is for cooking oils and fats.

Fat fires from cooking are best tackled with a fire blanket (which needs to conform to BS EN 1869), or by removing the cause of the fire (taking a flaming pan outside if safe to do so). Fire blankets can also be used to shield you while escaping the fire.

Traditionally, dry powder extinguishers are fitted to motorhomes and are rated for A, B and C fires. However, these are not recommended for use in confined spaces and organisations such as the Caravan and Motorhome Club now suggest AFFF (Aqueous Film Forming Foam) is better.

AFFF doesn’t settle in the cannister like dry powder and is also easier to clean up after. It is only effective on A and B types of fire. Realistically, though, a class C butane or propane fire should not be tackled by anyone other than a trained firefighter.

You can get automatic shut-off valves fitted to your gas cylinder lines – such as the GasStop system – and it’s well worth fitting one.

Remember, a 0.6kg aerosol-sized fire extinguisher typically gives just six seconds of extinguishant discharge and is designed to save your life by buying you a little time to get out. It’ll be of limited use for anything other than the most minor of fires.

A one-litre AFFF extinguisher offers 10 seconds of discharge, while a three-litre model gives around 14 seconds. It’s best to buy the largest fire extinguisher you can and mount it in a prominent place (close to an exit door is ideal). Don’t simply stash one in the garage – if you can’t grab it inside in an emergency it’s of no use.

In terms of buying a new extinguisher, look for the British Standard kite mark and check the manufacturing date stamp – dry powder versions last five years.

Once the five years is up either get the extinguisher refilled (not all models allow this to be done) or buy a new cylinder.

Even if the gauge is green on the extinguisher, the powder settles and hardens over time. You can prolong the life of the unit by taking the extinguisher off its wall mount and tipping it upside down for around 30 seconds, repeating three or four time. This fluffs the powder up.

Carbon Monoxide alarms in motorhomes and campervans

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless byproduct of incomplete combustion of fuel and, if it builds up, it will make you drowsy and ultimately kill you. If your motorhome is an older model and didn’t come with a CO detector, buy one and mount it carefully according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Also always check the batteries before every trip and replace if needed. Carbon monoxide alarms need regular checks and replacing every ten years.

If you have a fuel-powered heating system, make sure it is serviced in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and checked annually as part of the habitation service.

A significant cause of CO poisoning is from people using barbecues indoors (including inside an awning) without proper ventilation.

Coal-fired barbecues, even if the flames have died down and there is no visible smoke, can give off CO gas for a long period as the coals cool.

Never use any barbecue inside or store it in your awning unless it is completely cold. Even if it’s raining, leave the barbecue outside.

Check for standards with these devices, too, and look for the leisure vehicle specific standard (BS EN 50291-2), which indicates that a product is more capable of being subject to vibration and movement.

The 50291-1 standard indicates that a product is only suitable for use in the home environment.

Motorhome and campervan tyre safety

A motorhome tyre with a nail in it

Your motorhome’s tyre pressures are incredibly important – arguably more important than in a car – as the pressures of motorhome tyres are so much higher and the vehicles are so much heavier. Blowouts in motorhomes can easily become serious so it’s key to check the condition, tread depth, age and pressure of your tyres at regular intervals (and definitely before any long trips).

To set the correct pressure, you need to know the weight of your motorhome when it’s fully loaded with all your touring kit and occupants.

As a driver you’re responsible for knowing the weight of your vehicle so the first step is to visit a weighbridge and get a ticket for the front axle weight and the rear axle weight.

This needs to be under the plated weight stamped on the chassis. Armed with these weights, contact your tyre manufacturer and get it to indicate the correct tyre pressure.

So why don’t the motorhome manufacturers state the tyre pressures in the owner’s manual or on the door jamb of the vehicle? Well, they often do, but what they can’t predict is the weight of your touring kit. They have no way of knowing if you’re going to fill the garage with scatter cushions or your anvil collection! Hence you need to find out your actual touring weight.

Many modern vehicles now come with tyre pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) that can alert you when pressure drops in a tyre or if the heat in the tyre suddenly increases.

These can give you an early warning of an issue and a chance to check your tyres before a failure can occur. All work by having a device monitor the tyre pressure either inside the tyre, or on the valve stem, and then broadcast this data to either a monitor screen (or series of LEDs) in the cab or via Bluetooth to a mobile phone or tablet. These display systems then warn of high or low pressure, slow or rapid deflations and temperature changes (underinflated tyres heat up).

If your vehicle didn’t come with a TPMS as standard, you can retrofit a system with firms such as TyrePal, Terrafirma, Michelin and Fit2Go all offering various solutions.

They don’t have to cost the earth, either, with Michelin’s TPMS costing £80 including screw-on valve sensors for four tyres. Systems for tag-axle motorhomes are also available.

Motorhome breakdown safety

In many EU countries it’s mandatory to carry both a warning triangle and a high-visibility jacket (for all occupants) and, while it’s not mandatory in the UK, it’s good practice to do so.

You can buy all-in-one kits for touring in Europe that often come complete with reflective warning triangle, one high-vis jacket, a first aid kit, some beam benders for your headlights, a GB sticker and even some alcohol breathalysers for France (you can’t be fined, but you may have to drive to a local police station, if you are stopped and you are found not to be carrying a breathalyser).

The most common cause of breakdown is due to a puncture and, if this happens on a motorway, it’s best to pull onto the hard shoulder, reduce your speed and try and get to a service stop or slip road.

If you have to stop on the hard shoulder, put on your hi-vis clothing, get out of the vehicle and either climb the grass verge or get behind the Armco barrier until help arrives.

We do not recommend attempting changing a wheel at the side of any road – only attempt it if you can get the vehicle to a safe place.

The Highway Code reckons you should place your reflective warning triangle at least 45m (147ft) behind the rear of your vehicle. One innovative product we’ve seen that can increase visibility in this situation is the BrightAngle warning triangle, which additionally features a system of flashing LEDs integrated into the reflective surface.

It’s won a raft of awards and well worth investing in it for £29.99. It’s powered by four AA batteries and has a built-in switch to prevent battery drain when it’s folded up in storage.

Motorhome safety and security - the verdict

Motorhoming and campervanning is generally a pretty safe and relaxing hobby.

It’s best to kit your vehicle out with a few well-chosen safety additions just to give you some added peace of mind. Hopefully, you won’t ever need to use any of the items featured here, but it’s reassuring to have them to hand just in case. Safe travels, everyone!

 

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