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MoonGazers

Horrific Snaking, Tow Car To Caravan?

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It is probably a bit late to be asking (see below) but we are seriously considering giving up caravanning.

We changed our caravan 4 weeks ago for a 2010 Compass Omega 550 rear fixed island bed. We have a 2011 Suzuki Vitara 5 door 2. 4 litre tow car. We cannot find any car/caravan match site that lists our car (or both). We checked the handbook & also got the dealer to confirm we had a suitable car for the Compass Omega.

We tested out the car & caravan 2 weeks ago for a couple of days in Galloway & everything seemed fine having driven from the Borders. Yesterday we headed south for 2 weeks holiday which had been booked when we still had our old 2006 Lunar Clubman 2CK.

On the M6 a few miles from Kendal, my husband driving & I asleep, just before Killington services & in the slow lane behind another caravan & a lorry, my husband felt the caravan swaying. He said he slowed down & all seemed OK. Now he may have done the wrong thing? but he decided to pull into the middle lane to pass said caravan & lorry. Snaking started again (I awoke!) & to cut a long story short it was horrific, we ended up slewn across the carriageway with the offside front corner of the caravan bashed in & also the car badly damaged where the caravan hit.

We were fine, badly shaken & thankfully no other vehicle involved & managed to get our outfit onto the hard shoulder.

Awning, water barrels etc were over the caravan axle. Under the bed we had 2 folding chairs, towels, laptop, small light picnic table, other bits & bobs. Clothes in wardrobes, usual, a few books, binoculars, crockery in lockers, some tin food, TV etc under front seats. Gas bottle in front boot, electric hook up cable etc. Overloaded? Not distributed properly? The hitch is a Winterhoff & we have struggled with it so far. Two new tyres on when bought.

Nose weight appears to be critical looking at other posts on here, so any guidance on how we accurately measure?

After horrendous dealings phoning insurance we managed to limp into Kendal Caravan Club site where the wardens were so helpful. The hitch was stuck on the tow ball & took 3 people to get it off! Caravan is being recovered tomorrow to a dealer for repair assessment.

We started caravanning 2 years ago & finally bought what we thought to be our dream caravan but now thinking of giving up.

 

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That sounds like a very frightening experience and I'm glad you are both OK, though understandably shaken.

Not understanding the cause of the snaking must be a worry and for good reason you won't feel confident about taking the caravan out again unless you find out.

A couple of things I'd suggest:

1. While your van is in for the repair estimate, you could ask the workshop to examine it to see if they can find anything that may have contributed, eg defective shocks, binding brakes, chassis or hitch issues, etc.

2. Try to figure out any differences between the Galloway trip and the one where your snaking occurred.

3. You might not be able to find out but could anything have shifted in the caravan during your journey that would have made it become unstable?

 

A reliable noseweight gauge is useful to determine your noseweight.

 

You know the caravan and towcar combination can work well so I hope you get some answers that help you regain your confidence. Millions of us don't have your experience so there must be a cause that you can eliminate in future.

 

Good luck.

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Do you check the nose weight?

 

It sounds like most of your payload was in the rear.

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If the caravan had just started swaying, the last sensible thing to do is to speed up and overtake the vehicles that appear to have caused the problem! Not much help, I know, but TBH, you just wouldn`t.

 

The outfit you have is legal - assuming the van isn`t overloaded - but your towing ratio is well over the 85% recommendation, and getting up into the high nineties. Being able to physically tow a caravan and being suitable can be two different things. You are under the cars tow limit, but it`s not what I would regard as a good match, a light(ish) car with relatively short wheelbase and considerable overhang pulling a long(ish) heavy(ish) caravan.

 

Don`t think the hitch is at fault, our old Elddis with Winterhoff used to be a sod to get off at the best of times unless all the tension on the coupling was released, but I feel it did a better job as a `stabiliser` than the Alko we have now.

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Some thoughts on this that might give pointers:

 

Within the limits of the tow vehicle and the caravan's hitch the heavier the noseweight, generally the better for snaking stability.

 

So measuring an accurate noseweight is not in itself as important as knowing it is as close to the maximum possible. Caravan makers seem to have paid little attention in their layouts in getting viable noseweights and rear end fixed beds bring temptations to stow weight dangerously aft. [far more sense technically is the quite common continental practice where things are reversed and beds at the front, lounge at the rear.]

 

The Vitara's short rear "overhang" is a favourable feature but 4 X 4s can be a bit soft at the rear for their off-road ability. My experience suggests it is desirable to operate at as high a rear tyre pressure as practical, despite this not necessarily being needed for load carrying, but to get the sideways stiffness of the tyres and hence car's rear end as stiff as possible.

 

All towed units can go unstable and snake but that threshold where that occurs should not be encountered in normal towing conditions. In the situation you described there was obviously something wrong in the physical set up to encounter a snake under normal towing conditions.

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As said I couldn't find an exact match but the closest I could get to was marginal, in the high 90's. If you don't have a fundamental piece of equipment like a noseweight gauge or know your car's noseweight limit then its very likely the van was not loaded correctly, probably too light on the front. On one of the first trips we made to France we were running very late packing up for the ferry, I didn't check the lading and noseweight but within a few minutes of leaving the site in Amiens I realised the van was behaving really badly and looking to snake. Pulled over and checked nosewieght. ..at 15Kg. Felt a complete idiot,redistributed everything and checked again to 85Kg, van steady as a rock. Lesson learnt.

I'm so pleased you weren't injured and I'm sure your confidence has taken a bashing along with your outfit. Hopefully you'll find a better towing match, sort out your lading and distribution and continue to enjoy your caravan.

All the best

TD

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Out of interest, can you say what the overtaking speed was?

 

Is that area of the M6 South level or downhill?

 

Just wondered.

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Sounds like a scary experience. Obviously nose weight and weight distribution is vital. The most unstable tow I ever had was coming back from France where between the two of us we had put all our coming home wine on one side of the caravan (before I'm flamed it was about 40 bottles and the van had a payload allowance in excess of 400kg). Stopped distributed it more evenly and the van became stable again.

 

Other factors that can contribute to a lack of stability are cross winds and going too fast downhill. Maybe it would be money well spent if you booked on a towing course you might get answers face to face and hopefully restore some confidence.

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Sorry to hear about your experience. I don't know what the payload of your caravan is but you had a few things in there that could seriously eat into it. I never put my awning, hook-up cable, tinned food, TV, laptop, binoculars or books in the caravan. I consider that they are either too heavy or in the case of TV and laptop not suitable for shaking around.

 

If you were overladen it would certainly not help.

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Hi MoonGazers

 

As mentioned above it does appear that the rear of the caravan was heavily laden.

I would recommend that you purchase a nose weight gauge like this one

http://www. milenco. com/products/noseweight-gauge/

 

There is a knack to attach and detach the Winterhoff hitch which is reassuring!

 

When done correctly it attaches easily and detaches easily, if it's not detaching easily it's because the wrong procedure is being used!

It a two stage job, you might have been winding down the jockey wheel to rise the tow hitch clear of the tow ball before the stabiliser handle is fully up right.

http://www. bpw. co. uk/downloads/downloads_page/Handbook_WS_3000. pdf

I hope that this link might be of some help I tried to find a suitable video

 

 

Andrew

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I would not store anything under the rear island bed as you then end up with the tail wagging the dog. We had a rear island bed and had hardly anything under it. As said, if the caravan feels like it is snaking it is not very wise to overtake as the turbulence from the truck and the other vehicle and caravan would shake any unit. Hopefully your speed was 60 or below?

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Out of interest, can you say what the overtaking speed was?

 

Is that area of the M6 South level or downhill?

 

Just wondered.

It's between Tebay and Killington so I would think still downhill. I think the Vitara is light and small for a towcar though the same length as a Freelander 2 it is 300Kg lighter in kerb weight and 400Kg down on GVM, that seems to be that it's GVM is similar to the kerbweight of most of the towcars recommended for that size 'van on here. I would suggest the foot of the island bed is too far aft to stow the awning under, though I stow my awning under a fixed bed it is less than a metre from the axle centre, on this van I would say the bed foot is pushing 2m from axle centre, if the nose weight is correct, though I suspect it isn't, I suggest the van is overloaded,

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Reading all this and being a new "Caravanner", I am going to buy nose weight gauge, I have lifted the A-frame, so know it was bloomin heavy, but I think a proper tool for the job is needed.

 

So, there are ones you can buy for around £9 made by Kampa, or £28 for the Milenco one, they seem to work in a similar way. Curious what others use.

 

 

:)

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What was your speed ?

Is that part of the Motoway not steep down hill and on a curve?

What was the cross wind like?

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Reading all this and being a new "Caravanner", I am going to buy nose weight gauge, I have lifted the A-frame, so know it was bloomin heavy, but I think a proper tool for the job is needed.

 

So, there are ones you can buy for around £9 made by Kampa, or £28 for the Milenco one, they seem to work in a similar way. Curious what others use.

 

 

:)

Bathroom scales and a tailor made wooden prop.

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Bathroom scales and a tailor made wooden prop.

+1

Make sure the scales are on a flat, hard, surface. The ground on our storage place is grass, so I put the scales on some thick ply.

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Bathroom scales and a tailor made wooden prop.

 

 

Yup, thats fine, but do I really want to be carrying around a set of bathroom scales all the time ?

 

These "tube" type devices seem ideal, made for the job and not too much money and can sit in the front locker ready for a quick check prior to hitching up. . All very well spending £2000 on the latest Isabella awning, if it all ends up upside down on the motorway :(

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Reading all this and being a new "Caravanner", I am going to buy nose weight gauge, I have lifted the A-frame, so know it was bloomin heavy, but I think a proper tool for the job is needed.

 

So, there are ones you can buy for around £9 made by Kampa, or £28 for the Milenco one, they seem to work in a similar way. Curious what others use.

 

 

:)

Forget the cheapy because that is what it is "cheap and nasty". We have the Milenco guage which we find to be excellent and better than using inaccurate bathroom scales calibrated to under read by someone who is over weight! :D

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Reading all this and being a new "Caravanner", I am going to buy nose weight gauge, I have lifted the A-frame, so know it was bloomin heavy, but I think a proper tool for the job is needed.

 

So, there are ones you can buy for around £9 made by Kampa, or £28 for the Milenco one, they seem to work in a similar way. Curious what others use.

 

 

:)

For your car the nose weight is about 90Kg so if you can lift it you are fairly strong or your nose weight is low, think, a bag of cement is 25Kg so can you lift just over three of them. :unsure:

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Thank you all for your replies. We were in fact I think going slightly uphill on that stretch. We were about 55mph when in the slow lane. (Hubby not here at moment, waiting for recovery of caravan at Kendal, that's another story), so when overtaking it would have been more. It is an open stretch there. When sitting on the hard shoulder we were taking a real pounding from passing traffic. He went on a towing course before we started caravanning but he is not over technically minded ;0 Overhang etc goes over our heads so to speak!

In my heart of hearts on reading your replies about weight etc & in particular nose weight, the distribution of weight etc has been on my mind. Unless you are really technically minded though it is difficult for ordinary Joe public to know what is a light tow car. With a 2. 4l engine one assumes it is fairly stable in itself & good pulling power but obviously that means it isn't necessarily a good tow car then. It does have a small boot area for a 4x4 & we have to have a pet carrier etc in the back & other stuff. The awning etc was over the caravan axle not under the bed. So out of interest where do others store their folding chairs & other paraphernalia etc? On the floor at the front? I did remark to OH that even the clothes in the wardrobes (one either side of bed) can soon mount up weight. We had done nothing different from our first outing in it. Is it then also bad design? Lockers etc that in theory shouldn't be used. Would love to speak to other Compass Omega owners.

The tow matches we found were for 1. 6l Vitara. So even though 2. 4l the match isn't good? Manuals etc with OH at mo so can't check.

Head is spinning, but thanks all & hope our unfortunate experience is of help to others in the future.

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I am in Kendal should you need any help or advice. May I ask why your hubby decided to overtake the caravan and lorry?

Is hubby at CC site south of Kendal or the C&CC north of Kendal on Shap Rd?

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Twin axles are inherently more stable, subject to correct loading of course. I moved to these about 8 years ago and have never experienced the swinging and movement of my single axle vans. A suitable towcar is necessary obviously.

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Our caravan is a end fixed bed model, large storage area at the back end of the caravan.

 

It's very easy to massively effect the noseweight if you are not extremely careful.

 

Our layout has the battery box and hot water tank under the rear bed which all adds to rear weight.

 

When I collected it the front locker had 1 gas bottle in the front locker, a 110ah battery fitted and both the hot water tank and toilet flush tanks were full. I checked before I left and the nose weight was just 20kg :o That would have been a disaster.

 

So for my van, all water drained, no heavy items under bed, heavy items in front of axle, use the locker under the front seats for storage, 2 gas bottles and electric cables is the front locker and I manage 85kg.

 

(We also take hanging up clothes out of the wardrobe and lay them on the front seating)

 

Each van is different. You need to check your nose weight every outing.

 

Lee

Edited by logiclee
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Reading all this and being a new "Caravanner", I am going to buy nose weight gauge, I have lifted the A-frame, so know it was bloomin heavy, but I think a proper tool for the job is needed.

 

So, there are ones you can buy for around £9 made by Kampa, or £28 for the Milenco one, they seem to work in a similar way. Curious what others use.

 

 

:)

 

I have the Millenco one. I found the cheaper ones far from accurate.

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Hi MG's. I personally am glad that you survived albeit with a rather scary situation to get your heads around and regain some semblance of control. and to get it onto the hard-shoulder.

Where you on the downhill section of the M6 when the snake first occurred ?

How did you check you nose-weight prior to staring off and was it checked on level and even ground and at the actual towing height when hitched to the vehicle ?

Were you running dry of fluids in the various tanks ?

Was your caravan locked onto the Vitara with an AlKo type hitch-lock ?

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