Hitching up a caravan is one of the most routine elements of caravanning and yet, sometimes, it can be one of the most stressful. There are not many components involved with hitching up a caravan, but there is enough for it to be a chore and for everything to go terribly wrong in the worst-case scenario.
Here are the 10 best tips for hitching up a caravan that I’ve discovered over the years, and following them will make it a lot easier to get the rig set-up to go touring.
READY THE HITCH
Many hitch receivers have an anti-rattle bolt that is meant to be loosened-off when the tow hitch is in use. Now is the time to slacken it off the tow tongue and nip up its tensioning nut.
If you’re using a weight distribution hitch (WDH), setting up the torsion bars before you drop the van on the ball is a good idea. You’ll get the clamps in the right spot on the A-frame and the chains nicely vertical if you line it all up before the van is on the hitch.
GET A SPOTTER TO HELP
There is something about reversing a vehicle up to a caravan that can make or break the whole experience. It is up there with reversing a van, for some people. The best way is to get a spotter to guide you as you reverse up to the van.
A tip I always try to remember is to go slowly – there is no rush, and the more deliberate you are with moving the vehicle back as you get close to the coupling, the better the result.
INSTALL A REARVIEW CAMERA
These are a great invention, but some are better than others. If you’re buying a new tow rig, plenty of them now come with a rearview camera as standard. If not, there are many available on the after-market for not much money.
You really want one with as wide an angle as possible and angled so you get the towball in the picture. This neat device can just about make your spotter redundant, but you still need to be aware of your surroundings and not focus solely on the camera display. Keeping the camera lens clean is also vital.
ALWAYS HITCH ON LEVEL GROUND
This can be easier said than done sometimes, especially at those caravan park sites where you have to reverse your van up a mount to get on to the site. But you will soon find how hard it is to disengage the coupling when there’s too sharp an angle between the coupling and the hitch.
The coupling tongue will be jammed up against the towball head and can’t release. Bouncing the back of the vehicle can sometimes help release the coupling, but it’s better to avoid sharp angles in the first place.
ADJUST THE COUPLING PROPERLY
Notice a rattling or clunking from your rig as you drive along? Chances are that the ball coupling is not adjusted up properly.
A threaded screw and locknut on the coupling head is used to adjust the height of the coupling tongue on the towball. Don’t adjust it so it’s a really snug fit as it will make it difficult to disengage the towball.
FEED WIRES THROUGH THE HANDLE
Caravans these days usually have too much wiring, rather than not enough, for connecting to the tow vehicle. That’s probably a good thing, especially if you have a WDH with its extended tongue.
In any case, if you find you’ve got too much trailer cable to deal with, loop it though the coupling handle (this will only work if it’s a seven-pin connector; 12-pin connectors are too big for this).
If you’ve still got too much slack, or you’ve got a 12-pin connector, loop up the excess and cable-tie it to the A-frame. If you don’t get rid of the slack, chances are that the wires will start scraping on the ground and cause all sorts of electrical misery for you.
FOLD HANDBRAKE LEVER BACK
The small hinged locking lever that secures the handbrake in the ‘on’ position is a simple and easy device to use but it doesn’t help if it engages after hitting a bump as you’re driving along. In fact, that’s almost the last thing you want!
The best way to avoid the drama of overheated brakes is to simply fold the lever back and, thus, clear of the jagged locking recess so it can’t engage accidentally while you’re on the road.
HAVE A CHECKLIST
Even after years of towing, I find a printed checklist a great help in making sure that the rig is safely hitched and ready to go.
Such a list should include, at a minimum: hitch tongue pin properly secured and towball tight; coupling handle locked-down on towball; safety chains and electrical connector secured; handbrake off; jockey wheel removed and clamp secured; gas bottles turned off.
This might sound like a no-brainer, but what you think your van weighs and what it actually does weigh when it’s ready to go on tour can be two entirely different things. Towball mass, in particular, can make a mountain out of a molehill when you’re coupling up the rig.
Loading heavy gear in the van’s front boot can make the towball mass much heavier than you’d expect, throwing out the balance and making your tow vehicle drop down on its rear suspension. You can weigh towball mass with a portable ball weight scale or as part of the weighing you can do at a public weighbridge.
KEEP CHAINS ON UNTIL LAST
Caravan handbrakes are not nearly as dependable as car handbrakes, even when adjusted properly. If you’ve parked on a hill and are unhitching, your caravan could end up moving off on its own.
The easiest way of making sure it’s secure is to leave the safety chains on until the coupling is raised off the towball. If the van begins to move back, the safety chains will stop it from continuing on its merry way.
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #540 August 2015.