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Trailers and Caravans

by Alain Hoffmann

Above: Somewhere in northern Norway, north of the polar circle after a VERY cold and stormy night (september 1998). Not a single car travelled over the road passing by this site during the 12 hours we were there. In such a place you are happy if you have a reliable car. And one which can bring you back to civilization if a sudden snowstorm starts at 2AM.

General:

Land Rovers, as everybody knows, lend themselves very good for towing and travels. So many people combine those 2 virtues.

In most cases a Land Rover is better than a normal car for doing this but it turns up some problems you won't encounter with the average family car.

First is the technical side. You must aim to get the trailer hitch at the exact hight. This isn't so important for the occasional trip to the dump at home but on longer drives it makes quite a difference. Then I found out that most Land Rovers like quite a lot of weight on the hitch. Most cars limit to 50 kgs but I usually give around 80 kgs which makes for a very stable drive.

Now for the road dangers. With one of Solihull's best you aren't used to watch road imperfections as close as most car drivers have to do. This makes for a much harder life for the trailer. Also we (or at least I) use to drive the most hidden of the backroads with my preferences going towards unsurfaced roads. It takes quite a lot of getting used to for not damaging the caravan behind. Stones and loose chipping as well as the occasional moose (or cow) shit gets trown up and lands on the trailer behind. So mud flaps are an absolute necessity or you will quickly end with a broken window.

First rule for those new to towing a caravan is: Stay on the road. May sound silly but the additional lenght is hard to judge until you get used to. On one of my first travels to Scotland with a caravan I found myself pulling it through 2 deep ditches when I tried to get into an escape place on a single track road. It did not do the caravan any good; we lost quite some stuff before we realized the storage box had split open and dropped its contents on the road. If any of you found a brand new set of Stanley screw drivers on a single track road near John O'Groats please contact me. We had to fit (actually hammer them in) looong bolts into the side walls and the floor to fix things up again.

The undercarriage of the caravan must be inspected prior to the travel. On some you find waste water lines running below the floor from one side to the other. Forget them- they will fall off after the first day off tarmac. Also all the electrics must be tied up away from harm. On most modern caravans this is already done.

Left picture: Here you can see how much dirt is still sprayed over the front of the trailer even with mudflaps. Notice also the anti-sway system made by Oris of Germany and called Orismat. It takes out almost all vertical movement and most of the side swaying. Not exactly cheap at around 300 Euro it pays for itself - if it only once makes the difference between staying on the road and driving into the woods. It consists of 2 metal bars made of special spring steel. They eliminate the up and down movement by their spring-like action. The side-to-side movement is braked by replaceable pads near the thick black and red knobs. Those knobs simply regulate the force with which the pads rub on the steel bars. You adjust them to the weight of the trailer and to the road conditions (dry-wet- snow). This is a bit hard on heavy trailers and dry roads as you only have a grip on the large knobs. I always wanted to correct this by using a nut and a wrench. But you can live with the system as it is. There are other systems on the market but the good ones are all in the price range of 300-400 Euro. The reason I choose this one is it applies no rubbing force on the trailer balls like other systems do (so wearing up the ball) and it can connect up in seconds. You only have to pull up the splines in the black bar near the coupling head.

Interior:

Put the heavy stuff as well as expensive books and maps as low as possible. I still have to see a caravan on which the doors kept close in ANY case. Even the fridge which is secured by a pin in the door has opened more than once, spitting it's contents all over the ground. Which makes it nice is that almost all other stuff will already be on the floor before THIS happens. Underwear coated with jam or the best wifes bra covered with honey may be sexually attractive but it makes for a terrible mess if you don't have a washing machine. Sure, it takes a bit for this to happen but sometimes a single pothole you misjudged is enough. Some cupboard door locks are simply too wimpy to withstand the force exerced by the contents when they move from side to side.

Terrible speedbreakers are used in some countries. I once encountered one in Oslo where the car and the caravan took off together. And I only drove at around 60 kms. My father-in-law found one in France (where they are called Gendarme Dormant =sleeping cop) which broke him a shock, smashed a tire and bend the axle.

Left: Cleaning up spilled strawberry jam on the floor. Having a dog at hand makes cleaning up easier.

An hard shock like a deep pothole or such a speedbraker bends the axle. Caravan and Trailer axles aren't designed for absorbing such impact loads and will deform. You will notice this if a tire starts wearing unevenly. They can wear on the inner side completely while the wheel looks still good from the outside. The inner edge is usually hidden behind the wheelwell!

The only cure if your caravan tires wear off on the inner edge is usually a new axle. Not that expensive- it's only a metal tube. Loosing an trailer shock absorber is not such a terrible thing. I drove from Sweden back to Luxembourg (about 2000km) with only one shock left and i didn't notice much difference.

Driving on snow, earth and loose stone chipping:

It's not that different from driving a single vehicle. Just remember that the weight behind tries to push straight on. Snow may be the most difficult as it offers few traction. The caravan also pushes so, if you come to a situation where your wheels will almost lock up you can bet that the trailer will add the little amount to destabilize it. So drive slowly. In deep snow 2nd long range is almost the max. Or you can choose 4th or 5th on the short box which I would prefer. In all those conditions it makes sense to lock the center diff as long as the ground is a bit slippery. This reduces the change of both tires on the same axle locking up.

Earth and stones tracks are similar. While earth tracks as found in Scandinavia offer very good traction in dry condition they may turn slippery when wet. Loose stones alsways offer the same amount of traction but larger ones damage the trailers tires which are normally only car rubbers.

Picture left: Such dirt tracks can be found in many Scandinavian countries like here in Sweden. They are made of several coats of larger stones, than some finer stone coats and the upper cover is of very fine chipping and sand which is bonded with oil. Such tracks offer good traction all year round, evacuate surface water quite fast and get not too slippery when wet. Generally they are covered with a thin coat of small stones which form 2 tracks. Quitting those tracks you can quickly make your caravan become unstable as the loose stone cover can be quite thick in some areas. So slow down when you meet another car and only then turn to the side.

Weight:

Not surprising is that the more weight you add the more difficult the driving gets. I would in no case recommend using or buying an unbraked trailer over 750 kgs. Even that's a lot.

As I already mentioned the trailer tongue weight is important. If you don't have enough weight it will grossly modify the road behaviour. If you have an especially stubborn case try loading more weight in the front of the caravan. This may arrange things.

An double axle trailer is very nice. It can be pushed easily by hand, has a better payload and better manners on and off road. And it does not send you into an verturn if an tire gives up on the highway. It's only drawback is the price.

Some countries ask for coupled brakes if you exceed an fixed total weight of car and trailer. Generally in Europe you may not exceed 3500 kgs for both together- which doesn't leave much for the trailer. An average 110 has an total gross max weight of around 2500-3200 kgs, depending on specs. This doesn't leave much for the trailer. So most of us drive illegally. If in doubt as your local authority. I've never been fined for this but I'm sure in case of an accident this wouldn't be very good.

Here's how coupled brakes look like. You can get a setup like this directly from the factory, fitted to a new vehicle by Land Rover Special Vehicles. Above you see the compressor in the engine compartment as well as the connections for the trailer

With such an setup you can tow quite a lot. How much depends on your legislation and your drivers licence. Be aware however that you may be forced to mount an speed and time recording system as used in lorrys.