Recently, a CaravanTalk member shared their story about losing a caravan wheel on the motorway after little over 100 miles. Fortunately no one was hurt but it was a terrifying experience and goes to show the value of checking your wheel nuts, even on a new caravan.
Not only is losing a caravan wheel a nerve-shattering experience, should the lost wheel affect or endanger another motorist in any way, but you can also be held responsible for any damage or injury caused.
If a wheel should come loose because you haven’t checked your wheel nuts you may be held responsible and the insurers won’t payout.
You should check your wheel nuts regularly; before every journey and after about 50 miles on a new caravan or after an annual service. Some manufacturers recommend checking them every 50 miles.
It is important that your wheel nuts are the correct tightness as if they are too loose your caravan wheels may come off but if they’re too tight they can cause damage to the wheel and bolt threads.
Even if your wheel nuts seem stuck, you should never use WD40 or any sort of grease or oil on them. This can be extremely dangerous, causing them to come loose faster. If they are stuck fast you’ll just need to keep working on them until they loosen.
Using a torque wrench
We’d always recommend investing in a good torque wrench. Caravan wheel nuts have a specified torque and a torque wrench will ensure the nuts are tightened to precisely the correct level.
Most torque wrenches allow you to set the required force and then won’t exceed this regardless of how much force you try to apply. These torque wrenches usually give a loud click or bend at a hinge when they reach the correct torque.
Other wrenches have needles or pointers indicating the level of force exerted, you simply stop applying force when the indicator shows you’ve reached the correct torque. These options are often inexpensive and tend to be very reliable.
There are also more advanced wrenches with digital displays that allow you to programme in the correct level of torque. However, these are considerably more expensive and their accuracy often exceeds their purpose, mechanical wrenches are accurate enough for caravan wheel nuts.
There are often conflicting suggestions of how to correctly use a torque wrench to tighten your wheel nuts. If in doubt always consult the instructions given by your caravan manufacturer.
One of the most effective methods is known as re-torquing. This involves loosening the wheel nuts first and then re-tightening them to the correct torque.
If the manual recommends checking the torque without loosening the wheel nuts first, you should ensure they do not move when the correct torque is applied using the wrench.
However, if you have not checked the wheel nuts before you may wish to re-torque them, as many are often over-tightened. This can often damage the nuts and even cause them to shear if they encounter a large vibration (or pot-hole).
Many torque wrenches require calibrating to provide an accurate and safe measurement. Going to the effort of recalibrating your wrench is worth it as it’ll prevent you from over-tightening your wheel nuts.
Some people recommend the use of a Loctite fixant.
This adhesive can be applied to clean threads to provide extra friction and security. It doesn’t quite lock the threads but it will seriously reduce movement caused by vibration. This provides an additional safety measure when towing your caravan, meaning your wheel nuts should stay in place for longer.
This fixative isn’t a fail-safe so you should still carry out proper checks regularly.
Identifying wheel nut movement
Vibration can cause wheel nuts to come loose. In order to identify movement and loosening in your wheel nuts, you may wish to use an indicator.
These often come in the form of small brightly coloured caps or rings with a pointer that needs to be aligned when placed over the nut and bolt head. This allows you to check quickly whether the pointer has moved before you set off in your caravan.
You could also buy wheel nut retainers, which connect two wheel nuts ensuring that if one nut should come lose, it will not undo completely. These are made from flexible plastic so you can spot any distortion in the linkage at a quick glance.
Such indicators are quite reasonably priced, but an even cheaper option is to use a marker pen or some correction fluid to mark across the nut and bolt. Check them before every journey and if these marks are not aligned then your wheel nut has come loose and it needs tightening.
Like many other safety precautions in caravanning, ensuring the tightness of your wheel nuts requires minimal time and effort which results in invaluable peace of mind.
Stay safe and happy caravanning.