Touring caravan checklist: how to adjust and maintain your brakes

27th May 2016

All UK caravans are fitted with an ‘over-run’ brake system. The good news is that these systems are safe, effective and relatively easy to maintain. Here, we’ll take a closer look at the standard caravan braking system, highlighting how it works, how to keep it in good working order and how to adjust it where required.

Understanding how an over-run brake works

With an over-run braking system, the caravan is attached to the towing vehicle via a sprung drawbar and a breakaway cable. When you apply the brakes on your towing vehicle, inertia causes the towed caravan to continue travelling forwards. When this happens, the over-run system works by compressing the drawbar which causes a lever to rotate, pulling on the brake rod and applying the caravan’s wheel brake.

The more pressure you apply to your car’s brakes, the greater the force that is transferred to the drawbar, thereby transferring greater force to the brake rod and applying greater braking effort. So with this self-regulating system, the braking effect applied to your caravan increases or decreases in direct relationship to the level of pressure you are applying to your car’s brakes.

The importance of regular servicing

A standard, regularly inspected caravan braking system should not suddenly fail, but it’s essential to keep on top of wear and tear to prevent problems occurring over time. By far the safest and most reliable way of ensuring this is to have your caravan serviced annually through a recognised caravan service centre. The servicing routine for the brakes should include checking the condition of the linings for cracks, cleaning out brake dust from the inside of the drum and replacing any worn components.

Check out our video guide to caravan servicing for more information on essential caravan maintenance.

Identifying problems: signs to look for

Brakes activating independently on hill descents.

On descending moderately steep hills, the caravan brakes should not activate independently on the towing vehicle. If they do, it could be a sign of an incorrect brake set up.

Delay in activation.

When you apply your car brakes, there is an inevitable delay before the over-run system activates. However, this should be no more than a second. If it is greater than this, the brakes require inspection.

How to spot a damper problem

The coupling damper has a shock-absorbent effect, reducing the ‘bouncing’ of the sprung drawbar. If the spring is too strong and the damper too stiff, the brakes could fail to operate with sufficient force to bring the caravan to a safe stop. On the other hand, a spring that is set too weak and/or a damper too loose can cause the brakes to engage too easily.

Dampers usually have a very long life span, but frequent hard braking – and sometimes even a one-off emergency stop can sometimes be enough to render a damper ineffective. If you can push the coupling head back easily and/or if it feels springy, this is a sign that the damper has failed.

Attempting your own repairs

A DIY approach to repairs should be taken with extreme caution. Over-tightening the wrong bolt will quickly cause the brakes to drag and overheat. Similarly, incorrect adjustment of a damper can render it useless. Always follow the specific instructions of the particular brake manufacturer (reputable ones such as AL-KO provide tutorials). If in doubt, have your brakes examined by a reputable repairer.

Brake safety essential checklist:

  • Have your brakes checked by qualified personnel once a year.
  • Look out for the warning signs that there might be a problem.
  • Do not overload your caravan: not only is it illegal, it can prevent the over-run system from working properly.
  • Do not attempt DIY repairs without consulting the specific brake manufacturers’ instructions.

For complete protection, including breakdown cover in the event of mechanical, electronic or electrical faults or damage, take a look at our award winning touring caravan insurance. Our touring caravan insurance offers flexible cover to suit your needs and a variety of safety, security and no claims discounts of up to 60%Get a quote today, orrequest a callback from one of our experts to see how much you could save.

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