This brings us to the next dilemma: we’re normal, working class people, and although the beautiful, very capable vehicles featured in Caravan & Outdoor Life are highly desirable, we live in a world where R250 000 is still a quarter of a million rand, and way over our budget. This left us weighing up all the options: new or used, petrol or diesel, average fuel consumption, the cost of fuel, the cost of servicing, and the cost of repairs if something should go wrong; the list goes on and on.
Whichever tow vehicle we chose would need to serve as our tow vehicle for a long time, so we decided that a petrol engine was the best option. Enter a one-year-old demo Toyota Hilux 2.0-litre bakkie with all the optional extras fitted, at a price that was within our budget.
I know that 2.0‑litre, 100 kW and 182 Nm don’t sound all that impressive, but this bakkie really does what is required to a high degree of efficiency. Unladen, she returns just about 10 l/100 km. Towing our Rhapsody, she returns in the range 14–16 l/100 km. She tows comfortably at 100 km/h. She pulls up gradients, provided the revs are kept on the higher side, upwards of 3500 rpm.
Now, we were wondering if your test team could do tow tests on vehicles which are capable, without being in the ‘exotic’ class. We would be interested to hear your opinion on our choice of tow vehicle.
The points you raise have merit. A primary challenge we face is that vehicle manufacturers seldom make smaller-engined, lower-priced cars available for test. Also, it’s not often we come across new
vehicles priced under R200 000 that will make suitable towcars. To achieve this, we would need to explore the used market, and with that come several challenges: used car dealerships, as you can imagine, aren’t keen for their stock to be used for rigorous tow tests. But we’ve got a few ideas up our sleeve, and hopefully we’ll have a solution for you soon.
And our opinion about your towcar? Well, assuming your 2.0‑litre bakkie meets the legal towing mass requirements, based on its tare and gross combination mass (GCM) and the GVM of your braked caravan, and you’re towing within the manufacturer’s maximum towing capacity, there’s no reason it shouldn’t serve you well for many years. Your achieved fuel consumption is certainly acceptable, and we always advocate towing at or around 100 km/h. So it’s a win-win situation for you. There are many happy caravaners out there who read our magazine and who tow with affordable, smaller-engined, pre-owned vehicles.
Charles Engelbrecht writes:
Will a standard four-hole drop-plate work on a 2011 Sprite Sprint and Ford Ranger Hi-Trail combination?
The reason for fitting a drop-plate is to achieve the correct towing profile with your caravan. You don’t want the caravan to be nose-up – which is often the case with bakkies that have higher suspensions and towballs. A nose-up caravan, which is essentially higher in the front than at the back, can become very unstable while towed on the open road. As you highlight, the solution is often the fitment of a drop-plate, which lowers the towbar to the correct height, resulting in the caravan achieving a level or, even better, an ever so slightly nose-down profile while being towed.
There’s no specific reason why a four-hole drop-plate shouldn’t help with your particular towing combination. Check with your towbar manufacturer that the fitment of the drop-plate won’t invalidate your warranty, and assuming all’s okay, go ahead and make the change.
We’ve also found that loading some weight on the back of a bakkie can help with towing stability, and ensure that your tyre pressures are nice and firm.
Will my Q5 cope?
Daan Swart writes:
I’m looking for some advice. Can I tow a 1600 kg Fendt caravan with an Audi Q5?
You don’t mention if the ‘1600 kg’ refers to the caravan’s tare or its GVM. So for the purpose of this answer we’ll assume it’s the GVM.
Audi list a maximum braked towing capacity of 2000 kg (on a 12% gradient) for the Q5, and the vehicle has a tare of between 1695 kg and 1865 kg, depending on the model. So it’s certainly a legal towing combination (assuming it’s the caravan’s GVM that is 1600 kg). We can’t comment on the torque or power performance of the Q5; you don’t mention which model you drive, although any of the derivatives should cope well as a tow vehicle.
Audi have never supplied us with the Q5 model for a tow test, which is unfortunate, as we’re certain this SUV would make a fantastic towcar.
Caravan battery issues
Piet Havenga writes:
I’m very confused and I don’t know where to find answers to my questions. I have the following concerns:
During a previous camping excursion the lights inside my caravan went on the blink from time to time. There are battery clamps in the nose cone compartment, but I don’t use the battery because I always camp where there is a 220 V power point. I have a Sprite Super Sport 1990, but I have no idea how the wiring or electrical system of the caravan works – is an owner’s manual available? I’m very worried that my caravan will suffer damage or that the lights will leave me in the dark again during our next trip.
The advice that I’ve received so far from different sources is that I should connect the battery. Apparently the ‘power pack’ will burn out if the battery is not connected. Several other experts have also given me advice, but each seems to have his own ideas that contradict the others.
So these are my questions:
1. Must I connect the battery?
2. How will I know whether damage has already been caused?
3. Has the going out of the lights got anything to do with the problem?
4. Where can I get information about the electrical system in my caravan?
Thanks so much for the opportunity to get proper answers to my questions!
Piet, we forwarded your query on to our electrical expert, Burgert Turnbull. This is what he had to say:
As it happens, I also had a 1990 Sprite Super Sport that gave me plenty of electrical problems. So I’ll do my best to assist you.
The 12 VDC (direct current) supply for the fluorescent lights had a very unreliable oscillator fitted. Often the little transformer and power transistor packed up, blowing the light supply fuse. Some of the lights have a piece of 5‑amp fuse wire soldered on the PC board. This helped somewhat, in that after you replaced the main fuse on the fuse box all the other lights would still work. Most people would simply replace the blown light with a better type of Jurgens light.
Yes, I strongly agree with the people who have advised you to get the battery installed. That is the safest option. The reason is this: all of the ‘dad’ goodies, like braais, that we load in the nose cone could cause the two clamps to touch and short out the 12 V supply. And I can only hazard a guess at what would happen if a leaking gas bottle were stored in close proximity when the short happened! I know that this safety issue was a major concern that led to the manufacturers changing the battery and gas bottle locations, for the better, in later models.
As you know, all the new Sprite gravel-road series caravans come out with LED lights (located at knee level), which have greatly improved matters. I know that Gibbons Caravans in Vanderbijlpark sells a replacement kit unit.
Charged and sheltered
Reg Stone writes:
As we don’t have the luxury of undercover storage for our caravan, we make use of a standard cover available from caravan dealers, together with a 6 m x 3 m length of relatively inexpensive silver shade cloth. As can be seen in the photo, this is draped over and fixed at the four corners by a short length of rope attached tightly to the underside of the caravan. This prolongs the life of the caravan cover underneath, which otherwise would last only about three years under our harsh African sun.
Tying a knot in the shade cloth is an easy and strong way to attach the rope. The additional cloth stops the cover from flapping in the wind and chafing away at the glass fibre gel coat on the caravan. If you live in a windy city like Cape Town, this is a must. An extra length of rope is used as a belt to hold the sides in place.
In this way our caravan is preserved in as-new condition and is as good as the day we bought it, four years ago. The shade cloth also keeps the caravan cooler inside than the cover alone would.
In the photo, you can see a small solar panel. This, together with a regulator, is all that is needed to keep our battery fully charged and ready for the next trip. The battery is also used to power the burglar alarm, which we leave on while the caravan is parked.
All ingenious yet simple solutions to the problem of protecting your caravan while it’s not being used. Thanks for your tips, Reg.
LED taillight solution
Godfrey Castle writes:
The LED tail-lights fitted to the new Jurgens Ci range are a great improvement, in terms of brightness, on the old globe-type tail-lights. LEDs draw very little current, and have a further benefit in that unlike a globe, which has a single filament that becomes useless when it fuses, an LED tail-light is made up from numerous little diodes, and if one or a few go out, the chances are that those remaining will still operate, and get you home possibly without a traffic fine.
But the bigger advantage of having LED tail-lights on a caravan or trailer is that they draw so little power while operating at full brightness. This solves the problem of voltage drop encountered over the relatively long distance from the power source, down the electrical cable, through the male-female connection between the towing vehicle and the trailer, along even more cable and finally to the tail-lights of the trailer.
The problem is, LEDs draw so little power that on more sophisticated tow vehicles – generally those equipped with onboard computers – the trailer or caravan lights pick up slight pulses of energy flowing through the towing vehicle’s electrical ‘nervous system’! This causes the LEDs to emit a soft, pulsating flash as soon as the trailer is plugged into the towing vehicle. The result may be both indicator lights flashing, just one, or even a flash that alternates between the lights.
No amount of checking for poor earths, dirt bridging electrical connections or poor connections will solve this one!
You can try swapping towcars (although that’s a bit drastic), or if you connect an older-type caravan with globe-powered taillights to your vehicle, the problem might go away, but neither is a viable solution. The problem may only occur with your particular car-caravan combination, such as ours, a Land Rover Discovery 3 with our new long-term Sprite Tourer. We believe this also happens with some Audi and Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
The solution: ask your caravan dealer to swop out the LED tail-lights for the old-style globe-type lights. If you are a DIY person you can buy the sealed tail-light cluster from a motor spares place, pop out the LED unit and replace it with the alternative unit.
What the LED tail-light needs is a resistor, but since we are at the cutting edge of technology, this problem has not yet been solved. We’ll keep you posted with any developments.
(This edition of Caravan Clinic was published in the October 2011 issue of Caravan & Outdoor Life)