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If the idea of owning a touring caravan has recently caught your imagination, then you're not alone. Over the past few years, there has been a significant growth in the number of people opting for this type of holiday lifestyle - and at present, there are an estimated 498,000 touring caravans in the UK!
So what's been firing Britain's enthusiasm for getting hitched-up? The answer is two-fold, and relates to both the touring caravans themselves, and the places where they take you on holiday.
Modern touring caravans are a real eye-opener, especially if you've not stepped inside one for the last decade or so. Many are miracles of compact design which combine maximum living space with a whole host of home-from-home comforts, including fully fitted kitchens, sleeping and shower areas with plenty of storage space.
Manufacturing quality is superb as today's touring units are built for a long, hard-working life - and their high standards of insulation and modern heating systems mean that you're not restricted just to the warmer months for enjoying short breaks and longer holidays.
Then there's the holiday parks themselves. Britain's 3000-plus parks are amongst the best in Europe, whether you choose an intimate farm-based site deep in the countryside, or a larger family-friendly park in a popular seaside location with plenty going on to keep everyone occupied.
On most you will be able to book a fully serviced pitch and plug-in to all the main connections. And if you would appreciate extra space, many parks now also offer "super pitches" which commonly include outdoor furniture and other conveniences.
But first, as a would-be buyer, you will need to go back to basics and decide initially what you want to use your tourer for and how this might influence your decision. For example, if there's a particular sport or hobby you have in mind, will the caravan be big enough to accommodate you and your equipment comfortably?
Even if there are only two of you, you may decide the additional space in a 4/5 berth caravan suits your needs better. Of course, the size of your car may limit the size of caravan you can tow Ė which is why some people choose a smaller caravan but supplement it with an awning or tent.
Precisely what you can tow is one of a number of basic questions you will need to address at the outset. So here is a selection of points which many people ask before beginning the buying quest:
How do I know what my car can tow?
Caravan weight is a major factor when choosing a touring caravan. But your local dealer will have a computerised caravan matching system to take away the complexity.
Are there caravans that can be towed by an average-sized car?
Most major manufacturers offer light-weight caravans that provide the perfect mobile base for touring holidays. The 85% guide match is generally recommended for beginners, in other words, restricting the laden weight of the caravan to 85% of the tow-carís kerbweight.
Are there caravans that can be towed safely by small cars?
There are folding and slimline caravans which can be towed by smaller cars.
How large a caravan can I tow legally in the UK?
A touring caravan with:
...is the maximum size that can be legally towed by a motor vehicle whose maximum gross vehicle weight is less than 3,500 kg (so most 4x4s and even Transit type vans are not allowed to tow caravans that exceed the above dimensions). There are very few such large caravans in the UK, but it is as well to be aware of this.
- a maximum laden weight not exceeding 3,500 kg
- an overall width not exceeding 2.3 metres
- an overall body length not exceeding 7 metres (excluding drawbar and coupling)
What driving licence do I need to tow?
All drivers who passed a car test before 1 January 1997 retain their existing entitlement to tow trailers until their licence expires. This means they are generally entitled to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250 kg Gross Train Weight (GTW).
For car licences gained since 1 January 1997:
Category B: Vehicles up to 3,500 kg MPW and with up to eight passenger seats (including driver) Category B vehicles may be coupled with:
- a caravan up to 750 kg maximum technically permissible laden mass (MTPLM) (allowing a combined weight up to 4,250 kg GTW)
- or a caravan over 750 kg MTPLM provided the MTPLM of the caravan does not exceed the unladen weight of the car and the combination does not exceed 3,500 kg GTW.
If you passed your test after 1st January 1997 you will need to take an additional driving test in order to gain entitlement to Category B+E and all larger vehicles.
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A motorhome, or motor caravan as it is sometimes known, gives you the freedom to go where you want, when you want. It can transform your leisure time, turning every weekend into a holiday and every holiday into an adventure. Little wonder that sales are booming, and that there are now a current estimated 120,000 motorhomes on the road.
If you are considering investing in this glorious lifestyle, do remember that size isn't everything - and that the largest or most generously equipped motorhome may not be the best decision for you. Smaller models may have all the space you need, and be more versatile in use.
First ask yourself a few questions about how you intend to use the unit. For example, if you intend to use the motorhome as an everyday vehicle as well as for leisure, a compact high-top conversion or elevating roof model might be the right answer.
If, like most people, you plan to stay on holiday parks which have full facilities, you might not need all of the on-board equipment options that would be useful if leaving the beaten track. There's a great choice of sizes and layouts, ranging from compact campervans to luxurious A-class vehicles, plus an abundance of places to stay.
It might seem obvious, but do check that you have room on your driveway not just to park but also to manoeuvre the vehicle. Or check out secure storage facilities nearby. Driving a modern motorhome is a pleasure. Powerful turbo diesel engines pull with ease, cabs are comfortable and designed for long journeys with great visibility, clear instruments and power steering.
There are a number of basic questions about motorcaravans which many people ask at the outset, and we've set out some of these below.
How many people can I take in a motorhome?
It's usually a maximum of four people. All manufacturers specify the number of designated passenger seats for travelling. These will all have seat restraints fitted.
Where can I park a motorhome?
All towns will have some parking where a motorhome can be left. Inevitably there are some height restrictions, particularly in some multi-storey car parks but generally there are no limitations.
Are there any motorhomes with automatic gearboxes?
Ford, Volkswagen and Mercedes offer automatic transmission on some of their models.
Where can I get a motorhome serviced?
Your motorhome retailer will look after the habitation area and some may be able to look after the mechanics. Most vehicle maintenance should be carried out by the Chassis manufacturers' own Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) service network.
My motorhome needs an MOT. Where should I go?
An MOT is required on a motorhome after three years, just like a car. For motorhomes, it is advisable to go to a commercial vehicle testing station as they have the capacity and equipment for larger vehicles.
Can you buy a motorhome to fit into a standard garage?
Low line conversions with an elevating roof usually fit a standard garage.
What are the rules for seating passengers?
Passengers should only use designated passenger seats, as specified by the motorhome manufacturer. Seatbelts in the rear of a motorhome where fitted, should be worn.
Are motorhomes suitable for disabled people?
Many disabled people who normally use a wheelchair and their carers find that motorhome vehicles can be easily adapted for their needs. Ramps and lifts can be fitted and some other internal modifications can be carried out to adapt the vehicle, which, subject to an individual's eligibility, can be supplied without VAT.
Is there any way we can try a motorhome out before we buy?
Motorhomes are widely available on hire. Start by checking your local directories. Some dealers operate a 'try before you buy' scheme, where you can try the motorhome at little or no charge if you buy, or at an agreed time rate if you don't.
Do we need to connect up to an electricity supply for power?
Most motorhomes have leisure batteries which can service most needs overnight and recharge on the move. Most holiday parks now allow main connectors, for which your motorhome will be equipped.
Are motorhomes equipped to deal with cold weather?
Most manufacturers now build to European standards, making them suitable for year round use in the country of origin.
Are motorhomes expensive to run?
Motorhomes offer excellent performance for their size and weight with diesel power for the majority of vehicles today, offering good fuel efficiency.
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