With the summer holidays upon us, we all just want to jump into our 'vans and head for far-flung places. However, before we do, there are important checks to carry out, to be prepared for the journey ahead.
I like checklists to keep things organised. When starting out for the first time with a new motorhome, or getting ready for the first trip of the year, a checklist reassures you that you have not forgotten anything. Key items in your checklist are:
Before leaving home or a campsite, it is imperative to turn off the gas at source. I use the phrase 'Righty righty (closed), lefty loose (open)' to remind me which way to turn the valve. Gas cylinders must be strapped upright inside the gas locker, never left loose inside the vehicle.
Some motorhomes are fitted with portable cylinders, while others have permanently installed cylinders, such as Gaslow, which can be filled at any service station selling LPG.
Before setting off on your journey, check that there's plenty of gas in the cylinder. The last thing you want is to turn up on site late at night, only to find there is no gas.
Assessing the amount of gas can be quite tricky, but there are some retrofit devices that indicate 'fill level', such as Truma's LevelControl. This attaches to the base of the gas cylinder with an integrated magnet and, using ultrasound, relays data to the Truma iNet Box, which in turn sends data to a smartphone or tablet by Bluetooth or SMS.
If the gas is a little low, check if the campsite sells gas, or where the nearest supplier will be while you are there.
Most countries in Europe tend to use Campingaz rather than Calor Gas, so you won't be able to swap your Caller Gas bottle abroad. When we travel overseas, we take one Calor Gas bottle and a spare Campingaz bottle just in case we run out.
There are two types of gas on the market - propane (red bottle) and butane (blue bottle). Butane does not work as well in colder temperatures, so if your destination is likely to have temperatures that will fall below freezing, opt for propane.
Don't forget to pack your 25m hook-up cable. This should be an adequate length for most UK sties. However, on a recent visit to France, we nearly came unstuck when our 25m cable looked like it would not reach the nearest hook-up point.
It just reached, but only by running it across our neighbour's pitch. Luckily, they were very accommodating.
As a precaution, we now take an extra 10m cable, with a weatherproof plug and coupler safe box. Never join two cables without a weatherproof plug and coupler safe box - water and electrics are not a good combination!
If you have an on-board water tank, it is tempting to travel with it full. Be mindful that this will add a lot of weight - which is discussed later.
Don't forget to pack a hose for filling water containers or on-board tanks. It's always a good idea to take various lengths of hose with you, in case one isn't quite long enough.
If you don't have an on-board water tank and use a container instead, don't forget to pack the water pump.
It is your responsibility to ensure that tyres are in good condition, otherwise you could be breaking the law.
Check the tread passes the 20p test. You need a minimum tread depth of 1.6mm to comply with regulations throughout Europe. Place a 20p coin into the main tread groove of the tyre. If the coin's outer band is obscured, the tread is within the legal limit.
Invest in a tyre pressure gauge and refer to the motorhome manufacturer's owner's manual to establish the correct setting. Only check the pressure when the tyres are cold.
There is a legal maximum weight for a fully loaded motorhome, as defined by the base vehicle manufacturer. This is known as the Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass (MTPLM) or Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM - used by the DVLA). The MTPLM is usually displayed on a data plate, often mounted on a door surround or in the engine compartment.
To make sure you don't exceed the MTPLM, you could take your 'van to a local weighbridge with a full tank of fuel and have it weighed accurately. The passenger's weight can be added to this figure separately.
Check the axles are not overloaded by driving the front wheels onto the weighbridge to weigh the front axles and vice versa. They must not exceed the Maximum Axle Weight.
Also before you go...
- Close all windows and skylights
- Don't forget to unplug from the hook-up - I have seen a motorhome drive off with a hook-up before!
- Switch fridge to 12V operating mode while driving (if necessary)
- Check doors and hatches are properly shut and locked
- If you have an on-board waste water tank, it is best to empty it - you don't want dirty water sloshing around
- Not all pitches are level, so pack some ramps and chocks
- Slip mats and grip tracks are ideal for parking on soft ground