12V Guru – How To Maintain 12V Caravan Gear

Question to 12V Guru: maintenance tips for a safe trip

Hey 12V Guru – last month you spoke about many caravanners not understanding the basics of what needs to be maintained from a 12V system perspective – got any helpful maintenance tips of the main 12V caravan gear for a safe trip?

Alex Tallebuggera, QLD

12V Guru answers:

Thanks for your question and certainly would encourage everyone to read and share the information below to increase their likelihood of having a hassle-free trip.  As cars and vans get more and more complex with electronics and other features it is imperative to check the basic 12V caravan gear before a disaster ruins your travel plans.

Emergency systems

Firstly, start with the emergency systems such as BreakAway and ESC SwayControl.  With your breakaway unit you will need to ensure that the battery is fully charged and regularly replaced.  These batteries are only possibly optimal to perform the task when fully charged and not too old.

Recommend replacing every 2 years at a minimum and ensure you understand how they are wired for charging. Different manufacturers use different methods, including where it is just installed and up to the owner to add a charger.  Units like the BMPRO TrailSafe work from the house battery which is normally well oversized and readily charged which makes it simple.

Regarding the ESC and SwayControl systems it’s imperative that the operational lights – normally a green light on the front arms of the caravan, gives an indication that they are functionally ready.  Anything other than a solid green light means that you will need check with the manual or your installer to determine the fault.

Pull pin on the Breakaway system – most caravans all have a version of a black box somewhere on the front trailer drawbar arms.  It is always advisable to check the pin contacts are working and have not rusted out.  Pulling he pin should activate the braking system or provide a suitable warning light.

Water pump

Check the connections are not getting corroded.  Most units only use cheap connectors and they are not always protected from water ingress and a broken connection from corrosion will mean no water for meals or washing up.

Smoke and CO2 devices

Stating the obvious with these two devices but regular changing of the 9V battery as you would do in your home is paramount.

12V Batteries

Batteries – our favourite subject! Check that your battery has been ‘exercised’ regularly.  Caravans use a deep cycle AGM in most cases, and they need to be charged and discharged at least once or twice over a 2-3 month storage period.  A couple of days before a trip it is always best to check their stage of charge and give them a good top up before departing. 

Check your battery has not swelled or shows any sign of discharge – replace immediately if it has been damaged. Battery terminals should all be clean and connections tightly affixed to the lugs or screws to prevent short circuit or build up resistance which means it can’t provide energy nor be charged properly in addition to a heat build-up.   Always check that there is clear airflow around your charger and battery and no storage items have been inadvertently placed in the area.

Wires and connectors

Caravans run with electric brakes and with their wiring regularly exposed through the underside to the traumas of Australian roads such as stones and foreign obstacles, it not hard to understand how cables can become damaged. Checking that there appears to be no damaged exposed cables and that connections are all intact will give you piece of mind that your braking system will perform optimally when required.  A simple brake test using the override function on your car’s tow controller at low speed will satisfy that test when combined with a good visual inspection.

Lastly and very importantly is the connections between the trailer and the towing vehicle. Anderson plugs and trailer plugs get treated badly being dropped on the ground, stood upon and then there is the dirt and moisture buildup.  Check the terminals on both ends are clean with a good air compressor and/or soft brush to dislodge foreign material.  Almost all your caravans power needs such as brakes, lights, ESC are supplied through these connections so ensure you look after them.

A good run through this checklist of your 12V caravan devices would be the minimum before setting off on any adventure or weekend jaunt – safe travels!

The article was written for Caravan World Magazine.

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