Carry on caravanning - But make sure you have insurance

THIS weekend, thousands of holidaymakers will be dusting down their camping equipment and getting caravans out of storage, full of dreams of spending the best of summer on the open road. But many will set off for a break abroad, elsewhere in the UK, or just 50 miles down the road, without any kind of insurance cover.

Following the call of the wild can end in tears when disaster strikes and you have failed to take adequate precautions before setting off, or bought adequate protection. Yet there is no legal requirement to insure a caravan, and many rely on their household policy should their camping equipment be lost of damaged.

Camping and Caravanning Club spokesman Nigel Coppen said: "Many people are surprised there is no legal requirement to insure a caravan, but you are covered under your motor insurance in the case of an accident on the road. Personally, I wouldn't own something that can cost up to 20,000 and not insure it."

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The AA's Ian Crowder said: "Most motor insurance policies do allow the driver to tow a caravan or trailer. But you should check with your insurer. There are tough rules about which cars can tow which size of caravan."

Insurance is important, because if disaster strikes, not only are you significantly out of pocket, but your holiday is ruined. Specialist policies will pay for alternative accommodation. Coppen says theft and damage claims are the most common for tent travellers. It is important to bear in mind that equipment is not covered by your car insurance when locked in the car. If your vehicle in broken into, underwriters will compensate for the damage or loss of a car, but not valuable contents left inside.

He said: "Some people rely on their household insurance, but you need to be very careful about this. A tent and camping equipment can add up to quite a significant sum. If you claim this against your household policy, it may not automatically be covered, and even if it is, it could push next year's premium up by a hefty amount, and certainly by more than a camping policy."

You can insure your tent, your equipment and your holidays, for about 60 for a year, irrespective of how many holidays you take. Most policies automatically cover European holidays, although you may have to extend the cover if you want to travel further afield. They will pay limited compensation, say 75 per night, if you equipment is stolen or unusable, or pay for the hire of alternative canvas.

When it comes to caravans, claims are rife, often as a result of poor driving. Crowder says: "Manoeuvring caravans is not easy, which is why insurers receive numerous claims after vehicles have been reversed into something else, driven through narrow gates, or under low bridges. Not connecting the caravan properly can also cause major headaches. We had one customer who was touring in the Alps, and as he went down the mountain the caravan became decoupled, crashed down the mountainside and ended in a ravine."

Crowder says the secret to a happy caravanning holiday is to prepare your vehicle thoroughly when it comes out of storage. "You'd be surprised how many caravanners fail to check the brakes are working adequately," he said.

The RAC is also currently running a campaign to encourage caravanners to take frequent breaks when touring. It has a list of recommended stopping points on its website.

But for novices the first step is to buy a suitable home on the road. Small caravans start at about 8,000 new, and go up to 20,000 for a large luxury holiday-on-wheels.

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There is a buoyant second-hand market, but fraud is a problem, so buyers must beware they are not buying stolen goods. Sadly, this is not easy. There is no comprehensive register of stolen caravans as there are with cars. The Caravan Club keeps a list of stolen caravans, but it is a voluntary register, which it admits is a useful tool rather than failsafe protection.

The next step is insurance. As with all insurance, speak to your current insurers. Some motor underwriters offer discounts to existing customers wanting to cover a caravan. Check out the internet, and explore specialist policies provided by the various clubs. Always read the small print carefully to ensure you have the protection you need.

Graham Baynes, of the Caravan Club, said: " Caravan insurance is not compulsory, and the biggest risk is that you cause an accident which results in a multi-million pound claim.

"But you should be covered for third party liability under your car insurance. It is hard to conceive of your caravan causing an accident and your car not being involved.

"Even so you would be very ill advised to take a caravan out without proper cover. Unfortunately theft is rife, and a large area for claims. Caravans are very popular with criminals and, like cars, are stripped down for the parts. It has become a lucrative business for the organised gangs operating in this area."

They are also prone to accident damage, particularly in storms and high winds, where they can be blown over in the road. It is important to get the sum assured correct to cover the vehicle itself.

Normally your premium will cover new-for-old replacement until the van is perhaps three years old, then after that you may be paid replacement value only.

A second-hand caravan worth about 2,000 might cost 50 a year to insure, a new one worth 8,000 nearer 150 and a new top of the range model, nearer 200.

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You may have to pay extra to cover the contents, and a standard policy is unlikely to cover items such as jewellery. However, some of these items might be covered under your household contents policy.

Additionals such as awnings, may also have to be insured as an additional extra. As with camping, policies normally last a year, and will cover anywhere in Europe.

But buying insurance does not exonerate you of all responsibilities. Claims will not be paid if you leave your caravan unlocked and unsupervised at any time.

They may also be refused if you leave it parked in a position the insurer considers reckless.

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