In June we headed down to Cornwall in our Compass Echo 2 berth caravan. The little lightweight Compass Echo only weighs 650Kg (MRO) and our car, which is a 2.2L diesel PT Cruiser easily tows the caravan. However on a couple of occasions whilst driving on the motorway we experienced some snaking, which is an unpleasant experience and is sure to put butterflies in your stomach. The caravan and car had been loaded correctly and we were travelling at a safe speed but it still happened. So I decided there and then that when I got home I was going to fit a caravan stabiliser.
There are basically two different types of caravan stabiliser available.
The integral tow hitch stabiliser. These become part of the caravan tow hitch, like the AL-KO stabiliser. These types of stabilisers are fitted as standard to most newer caravans. They work by having two small friction pads inside the tow hitch, which, when a lever is engaged, grips the towball. For this type of stabiliser to work, the towball must be completely grease free and dry. Our caravan has an AL-KO chassis so fitting an AL-KO stabiliser was possible. However after giving it some thought I decided against this type of stabiliser. The main reason being that the two friction pads inside the tow hitch are small and they only have a limited amount of surface area to grip the towball.
The blade type stabiliser (shown above). These type of stabilisers have been around for years. They have a bracket fitted behind the towball of the towbar of the towing vehicle, and a bracket fitted to the caravan chassis. Then a blade/spring arm, which is fitted with two friction pads, links the two brackets together. When the caravan tries to move from side to side, the blade resists this motion and dampens any snaking. I like the design of this type of stabiliser and have had a positive experience using one, so this is what I decided to buy. Although they are not as convenient to use as the integral tow hitch type of stabiliser, I personally think that they do a more effective job because the friction pads are much larger in diameter (4 inches). Also the fact that the blade is attached to the towing vehicle and caravan chassis, will (in my mind) create a more stable and effective damping action.
So I bought a Stronghold SH5492 stabiliser and will now show you each step of the fitting procedure.
The first thing to do was to remove the towball from the car.
Next the towball bracket needs to be fitted between the towball and the towbar (replacing the existing towball bolts with slightly longer bolts due to the added thickness of the bracket).
Next I temporarily fitted the blade/friction pad unit…
…to the towbar bracket to check that the friction pads were adjusted to the correct force. The fitting instructions specify that, with the blade fitted to the towbar bracket and the friction pad locking lever depressed down…
…it should take around 30Kg of force to move the blade sideways. So I used some weighing scales to push against the blade until it moved. The reading I got was just over 22Kg.
As you can see I needed to increase the force by 8Kg. All that was required to do this was to tighten the 19mm nut slightly on the underside of the blade/friction pad unit.
Now that’s more like it!
The next job was to remove the fiberglass chassis cowling on the caravan.
This was a simple job and just required undoing and removing five bolts.
Looking from the front of the caravan, the stabiliser chassis bracket will be fitted to the left hand side.
Now comes the time to fit the chassis bracket.
When fitted correctly the chassis bracket needs to be positioned so that when the blade is fitted to the towbar, and is in its relaxed (non tensioned) state, the end of the bracket should be around 20mm above the blade and between 100mm to 150mm from the end of the blade. Well this is when I had a problem. In order to do this, the chassis bracket had to be so far forward that the nuts would obstruct the handbrake even with the bolts cut shorter.
So what I needed to do was turn the bolts around 180 degrees so the bolt heads were on the inside, this allowed the bracket to move further forward.
Now I could position the chassis bracket correctly.
With the blade located on the chassis bracket and the bracket sitting vertical, the blade didn’t sit flat in the nylon housing.
The fitting instruction mentioned nothing about this. However I didn’t like the way it looked, as the blade wasn’t in contact with all of the nylon housing. So I decided to tilt the chassis bracket, so that it was…
..that way the blade had full contact with the housing.
With the chassis bracket in the correct position, all three bolts could then be tightened and the bolts cut shorter so that they wouldn’t foul the fiberglass chassis cowling.
A dob of silver paint on the end of each bolt should help prevent rust.
As you can see from this picture, with the bolts fully tightened, there is now enough clearance for the handbrake to work.
The last job was to re-fit the caravans fiberglass chassis cowling, and attach the stabiliser blade to the towbar by passing the small arm at the friction pad end of the blade unit through the towball bracket…
… then tighten the retaining screw against the cut out in the arm.
The other end of the blade is then lifted up and onto the chassis bracket…
…before finally depressing the friction pad lever.
And that’s it. Takes just a couple of minutes to attach and remove.
I really like the way the stabiliser looks, not from an aesthetic point of view but from an mechanical/engineering point of view – it just looks like it going to be effective. We will be heading back down to Cornwall at the beginning of September (a 6 1/2 hour drive) and I feel pretty confident that there’ll be no more ‘butterflies in the stomach’ moments this time!