Caravan Hints

A collection of articles written by Abbey Caravan Club members that other caravanners may find useful. Go to the hint by clicking the links below.

Caravan Electrics (or how to make your battery last)

ACSI - An Addition or Alternative to the Red Pennant Touring Book

Trouble lighting a Thetford refrigerator on gas

External TV aerials - a warning

Caravan Electrics (or how to make your battery last)

Talking to caravan owners who do not rally, it would appear that the most common reason for not trying rallying is the fact that they would not be on mains electricity for the duration of the rally and are worried about the caravan battery not lasting. It is true that modern caravans are designed for connection to the mains supply but it is also true that it is quite possible to last for a five day rally on a fully charged battery - providing care is taken with the use of electrical items.

Some of the biggest culprits when it comes to drawing current from the battery (and therefore discharging it faster) are

  • The halogen (filament) lights fitted to modern caravans that take far more current than do the fluorescent lights that were standard until a few years ago, so only use those lights that are necessary and get into the habit of switching off unnecessary lights
  • The blower fan fitted to the heater
  • A colour television - only have it on when you are watching it.

Don't be afraid to use any of these items but only use them for as long as is necessary.

Always leave home with a fully charged battery, I always take mine out of the caravan and charge it in the garage rather than rely on the charger built into the caravan. Remember that the battery condition meter in the caravan only gives an indication of the charge of a battery; the fact that it is 'in the green' doesn't mean that it is fully charged. Always fit the largest battery possible, modern caravans will accept a 110 Ah battery in the battery compartment but be warned these are a lot heavier than an 85 Ah battery and need a fair amount of strength to get them in and out safely. Dropping a 110 Ah battery onto your toes will not do the battery any good at all - but it will do a lot more damage to your toes!

Just to be on the safe side, for rallies that last longer than a weekend, I take an extra fully charged battery, this battery became my reserve when it became obvious that it was not holding its full charge. For extended holiday rallies the marshals are often on mains and will often have a battery charger available, however this varies so check with the marshal.

Solar panels

Many ralliers these days use a solar panel that gives a useful battery charge during daylight hours. Solar panel technology has advanced a lot in recent years and they can give a useful change even on overcast days. I have taken some measurements from my 50 Watt (W) panel and on a brightish grey day last Easter the panel was providing a 1A charging current and on a sunny day in May it was giving 2.5A, both readings were taken at midday. Although this is unlikely to fully replace all of the charge taken from the battery during the day, the graph below illustrates how a battery that would normally last for around 4 days can be made to last for 14 days. This diagram is only to show the theory, the actual extra time gained depends on many different factors, e.g. how much current is drawn from the battery, the capacity and health of the battery, the weather, etc.


Reproduced with the kind permission of Solar Solutions

Panels vary in power from around 18W up to 50W, which is about the largest panel that is physically manageable (size not weight), panels can be stood on the ground or, with a bit of modification, they can be placed on the roof of the caravan which gets them out of the way.

My choice of panel was a 50 panel supplied by Solar Solutions of Poole. Although there are a lot cheaper panels available that are well liked by other members I was impressed by the CaraSolar's build quality, its built-in regulator (a vital component, which, with most other makes of panel, has to wired into the caravan), and its security cable which allows it to be securely locked to the caravan. Towards the end of the Moddershall rally this year our heater blower was left on (by mistake) from 7pm until around midnight after which the meter was in the yellow zone but by the following evening it had returned to the green, the battery was nowhere near fully charged of course but it was an impressive demonstration of the usefulness of a solar panel.

Caring for your battery

A battery must always be stored in a fully charged state, so make a point of charging it as soon as you return home from a rally, failure to do this can result in the battery plates 'sulphating up' which can drastically reduce the life of your battery. Check the acid level at regular intervals and top it up to the correct level using only distilled water, never let it drop below the top of the plates, but don't overfill it either, and never be tempted to put in extra acid to try to rejuvenate a tired battery, it has no effect and is a dangerous practice.

Store your battery when not in use in a dry, frost free place and give it an occasional charge. Never stand a battery directly onto a concrete floor as this can damage it.

Hopefully this will encourage members who have yet to try a rally for the above reasons to give it a try.

I hope that you find this article helpful. David W

a An Addition or Alternative to the Red Pennant Touring Book

Last year (2004) on our French trip, we had considerable difficulty using our Caravan Camping Cheques - on one Dutch site, the owner advised us to try ACSI, a Dutch camping company who specialise in negotiating special rates, especially out of season. He gave us the Web address to contact and this we did in readiness for this year' s trip. As it proved to be such a boon, I thought that our members who caravan abroad might be interested.

It cost us £3.95 for a year's registration, for which we got a very comprehensive site book listing the sites with special rates, their facilities and costs, plus showing a picture of the site. There are sites listed for most European countries -unfortunately only 3 in England - every one is inspected yearly to ensure standards, and all with top star ratings. You also get an ACSI card which you use instead of a camping carnet and ensures you get the fixed price, you know exactly what your bill will be.

Especially for those not tied to peak holiday times it is a must. Using the directory, we stopped on top quality sites (normal prices for outfit, electricity and 2 persons approx €20.00 or more) paying at most €13.50, but as little as €9.50. They are mostly in quieter surroundings and with some static vans or tents. Many in Northern France have covered pools and in Southern France pool complexes. Being in my second childhood, I really enjoyed all the 'flumes'!

We had no trouble at all getting really large pitches, and everyone was very friendly and helpful.

I also purchased a double disk (£9.00) for loading onto computer - it lists ALL sites whether ACSI registered on not. There are a variety of options for searching by town; lets you select and compare sites; gives maps and route planners and prepares and sends e-mail reservations in the appropriate language.

To find out more look at

Requests are sent to an address in England, but take several days, as the books, etc. are despatched from Holland.

Hope you find this helpful - J K

Trouble lighting a Thetford refrigerator on gas

For a while now I have had problems running my Thetford refrigerator when it is on gas, it ignited fine but when the knob is released the flame went out even after holding the knob in for an age.

If you have this problem the fault on ours was due to a design error in that when the knob was pressed fully in it didn’t go in far enough for the mechanism to hold – the fix is to remove the knob and drop a small rolled up ball of paper into the central hole so that when the knob is now pushed the flange at the back of the knob is clear of the fascia panel.  Isn’t technology wonderful!

David W

External TV aerials - a warning

We have just purchased a digital portable TV from Maplins, this works fine but it does need a strong signal (this should be better when analogue transmission TV ends) so we bought an Image external high gain aerial from Towsure.  Image aerials are made by the same people as make the Status aerials fitted to most caravans.  The Signal Booster amplifier made for the Image aerial looks identical to the one connected to the Status aerial and I thought ‘Why buy another one when we already have one in the caravan’ but beware they are not the same, they only look the same, and plugging your new external aerial into it will damage it as the one you already have is a Power Pack not an amplifier.  Trying to save £20 could end up costing you double that!

The new aerial/amplifier works fine but it wasn’t a good test as we had such a strong signal that it worked by just pointing the end on the aerial lead in the general direction of the transmitter.

David W