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Beginners Guide To Caravans & RVs

Article by Peter Smith - Caravans Plus

Everyone has to start somewhere. If you are a novice with any type of Recreational Vehicle and want to get a few pointers, this is the place to start.

If you don't have a caravan, camper trailer or motorhome yet, then what are you waiting for? Once you have an RV of any description there will be some things you must have, some things that would be nice but can wait, and some things you should just not worry about unless you like gadgets!

I'll use RV to describe any Recreational Vehicle from Camper Trailers, Pop-Tops & Caravans to Campervans & Motorhomes.

Recreational Vehicles

Before You Tow

Your Towbar

Recreational Vehicles

For camper trailers, pop-tops and caravans you will need a suitable tow vehicle. Many people will purchase the RV to suit what they already have, others may upgrade their vehicle at the same time.

You will need a vehicle that has a towing capacity greater than the combined weight of what you are towing plus its contents - don't forget water and gas weight. Check your handbook or type 'towing capacity MAKE/MODEL' into Google.

Your vehicle needs a towbar with a capacity that will also exceed the total towed weight. This should be stamped on the towbar. There are some very low capacity aftermarket towbars, so ensure yours is rated for the job.

Even towballs and Dee Shackles have ratings, if you don't know yours for sure, and your RV is more than 2000kgs, it may be worth a few dollars for peace of mind.

Do you need a Weight Distribution Hitch? Read the following article before being talked into buying a WDH.

How To Choose The Right Weight Distribution Hitch

How To Choose The Right Weight Distribution Hitch

Do I need a Weight Distribution Hitch? How do you reduce sway? What is my Towball Weight? All these questions and more are covered in this help arti...

Insurance & Breakdown

Your tow vehicle 'Compulsory Third Party' insurance will cover your towed RV, but comprehensive insurance must be arranged separately. There are a number of companies that handle this including CIL, NRMA, RAC, RACV, RACQ, BUPA, QBE, APIA, AAMI, GIO, CGU, ALLIANZ, SUNCORP....this can be done online.

Insurance companies will check compliance before paying claims. They will look at weights, tow capacity, towbars, towballs, D-shackles, brakes, rego, speed, drugs and alcohol.

Also check with your Automobile club if your tow vehicle breakdown coverage extends to the towed RV and if your RV will be towed if your vehicle breaks down. What happens if things go wrong at Alice Springs?

Electrical Connection

The car to RV wiring generally has at least two additional wires than a standard trailer wire harness:

  • You will probably need an auxiliary wire that takes positive battery power from your car battery/alternator to the RV internal lights or to the battery on board your RV (if it has one).
  • You are likely to need an electric brake wire going to the electric brakes on the RV.

    The above should be discussed if you are having a towbar installed, as often the STANDARD is what is quoted on.

    As many camper trailers and nearly all caravans have electric brakes these days, your vehicle will need an electric brake controller. These get fitted inside your vehicle and allow the correct amount of power to go to the brakes when you put your foot on the brake pedal.

    More detailed explanations and links to these products is here:

    The Caravaners Guide To Braking Laws...

    The Caravaners Guide To Braking Laws...

    Know your legal requirements when towing your caravan. This article covers the laws associated with caravan brakes, changes to state regulations based...
    Which Electric Brake Controller Will Suit Me?

    Which Electric Brake Controller Will Suit Me?

    Looking for the best Brake Controller to fit to your car? This simple guide breaks down the how they work, the different types available and our most ...

    If your loaded caravan weights more than 2000kgs, it must be fitted with a breakaway kit. The breakaway kit will engage the caravan brakes if it should become disconnected from the tow vehicle, and keep them on for at least 15mins.

    Important Facts About Brakes & Breakaway Kits

    Important Facts About Brakes & Breakaway Kits

    Do you need a breakaway kit? Knowing your vans limits and legal requirements is not only important so you have an enjoyable holiday, but a safe one. F...

    At this stage, NSW is the only state that enforces the addition of a remote battery monitor that must be fitted inside your tow vehicle. Caravans Plus does recommend these as a safety device, no matter what state you reside in, as it is common for the batteries to go flat or get loose charging connections.

    Towing Mirrors

    Recreational Vehicles

    It is a legal and sensible requirement if you are towing that you need extended mirrors on your tow vehicle, on each side. Low camper trailers that you can see over would be excluded.

    There is a great deal of price variation here and it generally refers to quality. Not every mirror will be suitable for every car, so read the specifications of the product you are interested in and bear in mind how often you will use them, how easy are they to fit, how long will they last, what happens on rough roads or when you pass an oncoming truck.

    A few little hints:

  • The closer the mirror is to you, the more you will see.
  • Rubber straps are easy to install, BUT allow vibration to be transmitted to mirror head.
  • On-coming trucks are renowned for blowing mirrors in or off unless they have a brace.
  • Spare parts may be needed in the future.
  • Car doors with trim at the base can effect door mounted mirrors.
  • Bonnet or mudguard mounted mirrors are inconvenient to adjust.
  • Unsymmetrical car mirrors are hard to clamp onto with rear straps.

    Arriving at your site and setting up.

    Recreational Vehicles

    Levelling up your RV

    Wouldn't it be great if all camp sites were level? Well they're not, so we need a way to level your caravan, trailer or motorhome. For years and years I have used just a few planks of wood. Driving my caravan up onto one or two or three levels of timber. That works just fine and costs nothing.

    With the proliferation of levelling ramps in the market you now have additional options. They are light weight plastic that is easy to clean and colourful so you don't leave them behind. A simple spirit level on your floor or siliconed to your drawbar is also a great idea. Do you have a smart phone? You can get a FREE iphone or Android App for levelling.

    We've put together a article to get you level the easy way, which also shows why some of the products are really useful, and don't have to cost the earth.

    Help File

    Tips & products to level your caravan or trailer


    Connecting to power.

    15amp 240V extension leads have a large earth pin and can carry a higher current than a normal power lead. A quick guide that tells you why and how to get around problems safely and legally is shown here below. It also has links to extensions leads if you need one.

    Help File

    Important 240v introduction if it is your first RV


    Fresh Water Hoses

    The reason you shouldn't use a normal garden hose to fill your tank or connect to your RV mains water inlet is to prevent the bad taste you will get. Hoses classed as Drinking water or Beverage hose will not taint the water and should be used. Filling a tank with a garden hose will take many, many, many flushes to remove the taste.

    If you need a hose use the link below.

    Grey Water Hose or Bucket

    What is grey water? It is the waste water from your shower, basin or sink.

    Caravan Parks will insist you do not run grey water onto the ground. The cheap low volume method is a bucket, but this is only useful for a sink and a short time. The better method is a sullage hose which you connect between your drain and the site sullage point. As this point can be at various distances, we recommend a few lengths that join together when needed. Use the smallest length possible.

    If you need a sullage hose use the link below. Joiners will be shown as 'Product Connections' at the bottom of each hose description.

    That really completes the essential items you'll need for your first trip, the following items will just add to your relaxation when you put your feet up in the shade and enjoy a cuppa.

    Extending Your Outdoor Area

    Recreational Vehicles

    Annex Mats

    The ground at camp sites can vary between a concrete slab, lush lawn, average grass, patchy dirt or just plain sand. We have a few different types of mats which will cater for some of all of the above. Our article on these with links to actual mats is shown below.

    Help File

    Choosing the right mat for your holiday destination.



    You can extend your weather proof living area so you can set up tables and chairs and BBQ's. Awnings can cost from a few hundred to well over a thousand dollars with ease of use and durability being the main differences in cost. Some are manual and some operate with 12 volts. There is an extensive range, so if you are looking at adding an awning it may be worth reading our overview of the features of each brand and model to narrow down the field.

    Help File

    Selecting the correct awning


    Shade Screens or Annex Walls

    Once you have a roof over your outdoor area, its only a matter of time until you'll think. Hmmm.... wouldn't mind stopping that sun from coming in on the angle. Ohhhh....... that sea breeze gets a bit brisk in the afternoon and blows my newspaper closed. Are those neighbours counting how many beers I've had? Or heaven forbid......maybe the grandkids could join us for a few days!

    There is a great range of shade screens and even some complete annex wall kits ready to fit onto many of the popular awnings. We give an overview of the current range we have and point out what to look for. Click the link when you get to this stage.

    Help File

    Add privacy and shade to your caravan awning.


    Outdoor Furniture

    Now that you have your extra space, you will definitely need a couple of folding chairs. Make sure you try the style before you buy. That's very hard to do at on online store, so unless you have sat in the same style, I suggest you don't buy on looks alone.

    Look at how comfortable they are to sit on, avoid any chair that has a bar across the front just under your thighs. How heavy are they to carry to the camp happy hour? Do they have a shelf to put your wine on? Are they so low its hard to get out of them.

    We also sell the tables that connect on the outside of your RV.

    Protecting you and your RV

    Recreational Vehicles

    While the caravan and camping crowd can be the most friendly and welcoming bunch you will ever meet, it doesn't mean that camping sites and parking areas are not without risk. If its personal safety items or security products for your RV you are after, we have a good range that will suit.


    We have first aid kits, smoke alarms, gas detectors, carbon monoxide detectors to name a few.

    RV Security

    The towball lock is the best value for money in the security section. Not much use for Campervan or Motorhomes but I would suggest it as an essential item if you leave your towed RV in an unsecured location. Cheap and easy to fit, these are a very good deterrent to the opportunistic thief.

    Other security items we have are locks to prevent removal of your hitch from your tow vehicle and a full range of wheel clamps. Even some motion detectors.


    Recreational Vehicles

    Well who doesn't like gadgets?

    While the RV Accessory section does have some novel gadgets, you will find that the vast majority are extremely useful.

    Some categories have already been referred to in this article but the RV Accessory section is a wonderland of things you may just need. Have a browse and remember an item can be placed in your cart as an easy way to review it at a later date, as long as you are logged in.

    Check out the kitchen and laundry categories. The non-breakable glasses are a must! The portable steps and water monitors are also very popular.

    More Articles

    Every time we write a new article, it is placed in our little library. We review the articles and update them when necessary as things change. So to get to complete list use the last entry in our main menu, or just click this link now. - Articles, FAQ & Guides

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