Get your car ready for camping

Camping: the art of getting closer to nature while getting further away from the nearest hot shower, flushing toilet and cold beverage.

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I’m no fan of the great outdoors, but plenty of us are. We spent 69.9million nights camping and caravanning in 2010, according to the National Caravan Council (NCC). And the coastal roads crammed with British tourists every Bank Holiday weekend prove it.

But if you are planning on making a trip during the next Bank Holiday which is just around the corner, have thought about whether your car is up to the job? From towage to storage, here’s how to get your car ready for camping – and what to look out for if you’re borrowing or hiring a car.

Loading the car

Memories of equipment from your own childhood camping trips probably won’t stretch far beyond a two-man tent, rucksack and possibly a fishing rod – but camping’s come a long way since then.

I’ve got some friends who take a television and a games console to the great outdoors with them, and there are tents to sleep up to six people these days – all of which take up room in your car and weigh it down.

You may be able to fit everything in your car, but you need to be aware of the effect the extra weight has. The AA recommends adjusting your tyre pressures to suit the heavier load. (You can find recommended tyre pressures in your owner’s manual or on the inside of the driver’s door). It also warns that the extra weight will affect your car’s handling, performance and stopping distances so bear this in mind too.

You will need to make sure your view isn’t obscured in any way and that the contents of your car don’t push it beyond its Maximum Permitted Weight (MPW). You can find the MPW or MAM (Maximum Authorised Mass) figure on your VIN plate under the bonnet, or in your handbook.

Unless you’re carrying some very heavy-duty equipment, you’re unlikely to exceed your car’s MPW, but remember to account for anything in a roof box, bicycles and of course, the passengers too.

Overloading your car can put you, your passengers, other drivers and your car in danger. The AA offers this advice for loading your car:

- Make sure everything is secure and not sliding about or tipping over.
- Keep the parcel shelf clear.
- Keep larger or heavier items low down.
- Do not store anything in the front foot wells. 

The Camping and Caravanning Club recommends loading your caravan like this:

Borrowing or hiring a car

If you find you’re struggling to get everything in, you need to either leave the telly at home or think about borrowing or hiring a car.

It used to be the case that pretty much anyone with a fully comprehensive car insurance policy could jump in someone else’s car (with their permission) and automatically be covered, albeit with third-party-only cover.

That’s not strictly the case anymore, as many insurers place stringent conditions of who qualifies for the third party cover. For example, many won’t cover young (under 25) drivers, or drivers deemed to have ‘risky’ occupations.

So if you’re planning on borrowing a car for your camping trip, get on the phone and explain the situation to the insurer first. They’ll advise you what to do and may be able to up the cover for an additional fee.

If you’re looking to hire a car then it’s pretty much a matter of choosing one large enough to get everything in. If you use TravelSupermarket’s car hire service you can specify a vehicle type, and one option is ‘people carrier/vans’, which should give you plenty of space.

For a good rundown of the best MPVs for families, check out Les Roberts’ article here, in which he mentions in particular the Seat Alhambra (pictured) and the Citroen C3 Picasso.

You might find a cheap deal on your hire car, but you must be careful not to get stung by any expensive extras charged by the hire company. For example, some hire companies will charge as much as £20 a day for excess insurance, but you can buy stand-alone polices for as little as £2.99 a day. See here for more details.

Towing a caravan, trailer or trailer tent

If you can’t safely fit everything in your vehicle, or you’re taking a caravan away, you’ll need to make sure your car is up to the job of towing.

First off, tow brackets must be tested to the appropriate British or European standard and use mounting points recommended by your car’s manufacturer (check the owner’s manual).

If you’re planning on getting a tow bracket fitted, the AA recommends using a Quality Secured Accredited company on the National Trailer & Towing Association’s (NTTA) list here.

Remember that fitting a tow bracket will count as a modification and should be declared to your insurer. Failing to declare it could invalidate your policy, in the event of a claim. I covered this kind of thing in my article ‘Get the cover you need for your caravan or motorhome’, last week.

Unless you’ve got a lot of experience, your caravan shouldn’t be loaded with more than 85% of your car’s kerb weight.

You can check this either at a weighbridge or by adding up the weight of its contents.

You also need to check your car’s towing limit and your caravan’s Maximum Technically Permissible Laden Mass (MTPLM). You’ll find all of these figures either on the VIN plates of your car and caravan or in the owner’s manuals.

In some modern, fuel-efficient cars, the towing limit may be lower than its kerb weight, so it’s important to check. The towing weight may also vary depending on how many passengers are in the car. Dig out your owner’s manual for this.

The Camping and Caravanning Club produced a really useful PDF on loading your caravan here, which is a must-read if you’re planning on towing something on your next trip away.

Surprisingly, your driving licence also dictates what you’re allowed to tow. If you passed your driving test before 1997 you’re allowed to carry up to 8.25 tonnes (vehicle and trailer combined), but if you passed after that year, it’s less clear cut and you may need to pass an additional test, depending on how much you want to tow. You can find out more about the additional B&E test here

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