Choosing your caravan: the essential points to know

Choosing the right caravan is finding one that weighs the same as its towing vehicle. And, of course, whose number of sleeping places corresponds to the number of people who will sleep indoors… The equipment will correspond to the use you plan for your caravan: in summer only, or a good part of the year, even in winter sports…

Choosing a caravan can be a favorite for this leisure mode and its poetry to be able to take “your little house” everywhere on the paths you have chosen. It may be for economic reasons, the investment budget remaining limited, with a resale at a correct price guaranteed – a well maintained caravan sells well on occasion, and it has no mileage… The caravan, finally, is the taste for camping, its friendliness and ease of use, its attractiveness for children who are guaranteed to make friends, to spend a good holiday in a safe place…

A wide price range

As in the automotive industry, caravan equipment levels determine prices. We can thus establish, roughly speaking, three range segments:

-first price caravans, corresponding to a strictly summer use, starting at just over 11,000 euros, with a maximum for the largest family models of around 18,000 euros.

the intermediate segment, designed for extended use in off-season, with prices starting at 13,000 / 14,000 euros, up to 20,000 euros or more for larger versions.

-the high-end segment, finally, for all-season use. The prices of these models start at around 20,000 euros, and can reach 30,000 euros for the largest of them.

Exception to this, the unclassifiable low-floor caravans with folding roofs (Eriba, Silver), whose prices can exceed 20,000 euros.

The weight of your caravan

Max. towing weight

The maximum permissible gross vehicle weight (GVW) of your caravan must be the maximum that your car can tow. For this, the simplest solution is to refer to your vehicle registration document: the operation of subtracting the weights mentioned on the indications F3 (PTRA) – F2 (PTAC) = towable weight gives you the information. Note that there may be a higher towing weight indicated in the technical logbook of your car, in this case it is a load shift authorized by the manufacturer. A provision to be reserved for special cases, to be avoided if possible in the context of tourist caravaning when travelling with the family, a well loaded car… Indeed, the load shift implies – to make it simple – to relieve the car to save weight that is “carried” to the caravan, so that the sum of the actual weight of the two vehicles does not exceed the PTRA (mention F3 of the car registration document). This operation also involves checking the weights on a weighbridge… Finally, last but not least, some heavy caravans associated with heavy cars can make you change the category of driving licence. To do this, read the topic “expertise”. (pages 34&36).

Tare weight in running order

Most caravan manufacturers now only communicate on the “empty weight in running order”, which corresponds to the “dry” empty weight of the vehicle + filled tanks, a gas bottle and an electrical cable. Note that this empty weight has no influence on the category of the driving licence.

Payload and PTAC

The payload is defined by a standard, and calculated according to the size of the caravan and its number of places. It corresponds to the loading capacity of the caravan. If you add options, the payload will necessarily be reduced (e. g. up to 60 kg for a caravan move). Be careful, it is not extensible either, unless you opt for a higher PTAC (most brands offer it for free or as a paid option). However, you should keep in mind the limit of traction capacity of your car, as well as the category of driver’s license you own! Importantly, the GVWR of your caravan is an impassable value: if you exceed it, you are in violation. This overtaking also has technical consequences that are detrimental to road safety.

The PTRA

In the French Highway Code, the PTRA corresponds to the actual maximum weight that the car + trailer combination can achieve. This concept shows the limits of the maximum weight of your caravan. Nor can it be exceeded under the risk of a fine.

Which layout to choose?

When choosing a caravan, it is the room that is decisive. The position of the kitchen and the layout of the living room follow. Hence this comparison of layouts oriented towards sleeping (plans from the Hobby catalogue).

Central bed

This is the most popular provision, as it offers a bed “like at home” on the sides of which you can easily move around without disturbing your spouse. Bedside furniture and often linens are installed on both sides. Under the box spring, a storage compartment can accommodate bulky objects. Disadvantages: this design requires a long and wide body length and width, which results in a higher weight.

Transverse double fixed bed

This arrangement is found in many models, including the most compact ones. The advantage is to have a real bed in a separate room that does not require much space. Disadvantages: access to the more delicate bed, risk of disturbing the spouse, and not necessarily bedside furniture.

Motorhome plan

Appreciated by the fact that it allows you to install in the room the suite with shower, toilet and furniture used as a dressing table. Access to storage under the box spring is easy, and bedside furniture can be provided. Disadvantage: the bevelled bed, and sometimes a delicate access to the bottom place.

Twin beds

Very popular in Germany and Holland, twin beds seduce in France a public eager to have very accessible beds with the advantage of not disturbing the spouse. And if you want to make a double king-size bed, there are additional mattress options, with a roll-down bed base,… Disadvantage: like the central bed, twin beds require a long and wide interior.

Children’s room

Thanks to their narrow width (often 85 cm), the children’s bunks can be accommodated in almost all caravan sizes in two or three layers. It is the ideal solution for the family. Some models allow you to have a hold by opening a compartment in which the lower berth is raised. Disadvantage: fixed bunks not found in a low caravan.

The accessories

The trend is for the big refrigerator: indeed, the refrigerator-freezer allows a greater autonomy in caravans, especially if there are many of us. There are models in columns or drawers.

Also think of heating, useful in off-season or if you camp in the mountains: the nights are cool! The best option is to opt for a system with convection air that distributes the heat well in the passenger compartment. Conversely, in the middle of summer you can be confronted with heat waves, so don’t forget to opt for an rv air conditioner, either integrated into the rv or, sold separately, both solutions are possible.

Finally, while toilets are standard in almost all models, hot water is often an option. It is useful for troubleshooting, if your site is far from the sanitary block, or if you have small children. Water heaters generally have a capacity of 5 L, for a shower or a small “washing-up”. There are also larger water heaters, but they are heavier.