Put simply, running gear is everything that a caravan needs in order for it to be road legal. This includes the hitch head, brakes, brakeaway cable, lights, stabilisers and the suspension.
It's crucial that your caravan has all these items in good working order, otherwise you can attract unwanted attention from the police, face a costly repair bill and even end up with points on your driving license. What's more, caravans without adequate running gear are unlikely to be covered by most touring caravan insurance policies.
Some items can be fixed up for a small cost, but others can render a caravan a complete write-off, so it's important to know exactly what to look for before considering buying a used caravan.
Is it sitting level? This can be easily done by using a spirit level or a spirit level app on your smartphone.
If it is not level, then you should check the state of the suspension. Caravan stub axles flex on rubber blocks and these blocks can get worn over time by towing over kerbs, potholes or any rough surfaces.
The more worn your suspension is, then the more damage little bumps in the road can do to the bodywork of your caravan.
Check the stabiliser pads in the hitch head - if these appear worn then they may need replacing."It astounds me how few people ask for a test drive before buying."
The easiest way to find out is to ask to take the 'van for a test drive. Most dealers will let you tow the caravan around the block, provided they sit in the passenger seat while you do so, and it's worth asking private sellers to let you do this as well.
Peter Ashby, from Golden Castle Caravans, recommends this as a key check: "It astounds me how few people ask for a test drive before buying. This is the best way to spot if there is anything wrong with the running gear."
Engage your car's towball - it will tell you a lot about the state of the hitch. If it engages and disengages smoothly then the stabiliser pad are still in good condition.
The state of the brakes. If they apply evenly and smoothly and you do not feel the caravan lurching to one side, then that is a good sign.
Finally a few basic checks should be carried out - do the lights work? Do the tyres have sufficient grip? Is the brakeaway cable still intact? Once you are satisfied with these basic checks, then you can start to consider parting with your hard-earned cash.
If you are thinking about buying privately, it's worth checking your used caravan in to a local dealer for a service before you tow it away on your first holiday. A dealer will be able to carry out all the essential checks and spot any potential problems before they ruin your holiday. A full NCC-approved service costs around £200 for a single-axle caravan and £235 for a twin-axle caravan.
It's also worth noting that these kinds of checks can't simply be carried out by a car mechanic when your towcar is serviced - they need to be carried out by a specialist caravan workshop. These service inspections should be carried out on an annual basis, not just in the interests of safety, but also to keep your caravan insurance valid.
Whether you're buying privately or through a dealer, these simple checks can help you spot the difference between a happy holiday caravan and an expensive liability.
To ensure you are covered should the worst happen, you should take out touring caravan cover.
Adam Summersby is a respected leader with 11 years’ varied experience in niche personal and commercial lines insurance, including caravan, site operators and excess reimbursement, with proficiency in leadership, sales and account management.
Date: November 27, 2012