Things to be aware of with regard European Caravans
Are you thinking about buying a caravan or just checking the condition of your own vehicle?
European caravans were purposefully designed to be towed with low powered vehicle on the motorways of Europe, they are well designed for lightweight tow vehicles.
They are very popular in New Zealand, but they were never designed to be loaded up with gear and dragged across logging tracks to a remote location.
Even our good roads are not that smooth, and this will have an effect on the axle.
What to look out for when checking the axle, is to be sure that the lever arm is facing downwards and that there is room for the arm to travel up and down. See the image below.
The lever arm is supported at that angle with rubber inserts inside the axle tube. Over time the rubber inserts become severely compressed and the lever arms will no longer point downwards, causing the suspension to become rigid, therefore the shocks from bumps and potholes in the road will travel throughout the vehicle and eventually damage the structure, which leads to cracks forming in the body and moisture penetrating to the interior
Book in for an axle rebuild. Click here
If you already find yourself in this position don't despair
An axle can be repaired, a refurbished axle will make the caravan sit much higher off the road surface and the vehicle will tow much better than before.
As a rough guide, the distance from the bottom of the caravan floor to the road surface measured at the axle should be about 400mm with some manufacturers and about 500mm with others, a refurbished or new axle will usually measure approximately 500mm depending on the make and model
Be careful not to overload a European caravan, there is a plate on the side of the entrance door with the weight restrictions printed on it, if you want to know how much your caravan weighs when you are all loaded up ready to go, just take it to the local waste depot first, they will have a weighing bridge and for a small fee, you can weigh the caravan for peace of mind.
The following paragraphs look into the consequences of towing a vehicle with a damaged axle
What happens when the caravan is being towed
Imagine what it might be like to sit in the back of your caravan whilst it is being towed down a bumpy NZ road at 90km per hour. (please don't try it!)
Frightening hey? Now imagine what it would be like if the axle was rigid with no flex. The road shock is transferred to the caravan structure and internal cabinetry, which results in the shaking and breaking loose of all the internal fastenings and components, eventually you will be towing a flexible leaking container full of loose cabinetry. See this link for just such an example.
For your entertainment, I put in a link to Top Gear so you can see what not to do
About the caravan chassis construction
The ALKO chassis is not welded (for build convenience), it is made up of multiple interchangeable galvanized pressed steel components all bolted together. The design is very versatile enabling manufacturers to use the same axle for a variety of models.
The key to the strength of this design is that the internal cabinets act as bulkheads, holding the floor, the walls and, the roof together, if there is any flex in the chassis, the forces are transferred through furniture in the entire vehicle.
The tow hitch
The tow hitch and components attached to it are subject to the greatest forces within the caravan.
As the tow vehicle accelerates, decelerates, and turns in different directions, these forces are transferred via the front bulkhead (usually inside the front gas locker) to the rest of the caravan by way of the floor and sidewalls. The front bulkhead is therefore an area that is most likely to start moving, to check if your front bulkhead has movement, ensure that the 4 outer steadies are lifted off the ground, and only the jockey wheel is down, or attach it to a tow vehicle. Open the gas locker and look where the bulkhead meets the sidewalls, get someone else to move the caravan up and down using the front wall handles, if there is only the slightest movement at the bulkhead to wall connection then your problems have already started.
If there is movement, don't despair
The vehicle can be repaired, we can find the source of the problem, fix it and then set the chassis perfectly level to factory settings and reattach the walls to the bulkheads which will stiffen up the vehicle as it was originally
If you have any doubt about the caravan, the way it is towing, if it is wallowing or jerking excessively then you will probably need to have it checked
If you want to ask questions you can email us at email@example.com