The Caravan Stabiliser – A Full Guide
Imagine that you are on the M5 motorway heading south on a Friday afternoon, before bank holiday Monday. It has taken you an hour and forty minutes to get past the M4 turn off by Bristol, and now the traffic suddenly disappears and you have clear open road in front of you. For a moment, you forget that you have a ton and a half of holiday home hooked onto your car and your foot becomes heavy on the accelerator.
What are the potential caravan towing problems?
There are a multitude of potential caravan towing problems that can arise. Most of which have the potential to kill you and your passenger. So it’s worth spending at least a couple of minutes discovering what they are and how to prevent them. Some of the problems can be eradicated by using the caravan feature walk around but not all!
Speed – as with many accidents going too fast is a huge issue. If any of the below listed issues arise, then your time to deal with the problem is significantly reduced. Also the impact of most issues are exaggerated by the speed.
Weight – this can be the weight of the caravan being too Heavy for the towing vehicle or the distribution of the weight of the contents within the caravan
Even if you are a very sensible driver, towing at the correct speed there are issues that can arise that are out of your control.
- Driving Turbulence
- Side / cross wind
- Avoiding hazards
- Road surface
All of this generally results in one of two main issued
Called so no because it sheds its outer skin (though it might if you crash) or because the driver keeps bobbing out his tongue (although hobby owners might)
No – it’s Because the caravan sways from side to side and can take the towing vehicle with it. This becomes a self-perpetuating cycle (for Adria owners, that means it gets worse and you can’t stop it)
Snaking, I am told, feels like when you were six years old and your uncle thought it funny, to shake your hand and then exaggerate the hand shake until you almost dislocate your shoulder.
View dash cam footage from some friends down under in Australia of a caravan building from a gentle sway to a full crash.
The other problem, though often caused by weight distribution is …
Caravan pitching when towing
This is when the nose of the caravan dips and rises causing the car to do the same a bit like a see-saw. This can result in not just loss of control but a very uncomfortable feeling likened to sea sickness.
I have been lucky…. I have always had a decent stabiliser, so I’ve never experienced either of the issues.
So before we look at how the caravan stabiliser works, let us remind ourselves of how does a normal caravan tow hitch work?
The catch will usually hold the caravan onto the towing vehicle, if the weight distribution is right. What it won’t do though, is steady the caravan and stop it freely moving from left to right – TA DA… Enter the Caravan Stabiliser.
Types of Caravan Stabiliser
There are three main types of caravan stabiliser. The oldest is a blade or Anti snake bar, then there is the more common hitch head
stabiliser and electronic active caravan stabiliser systems.
I like the hitch head caravan stabiliser
For reasons that probably don’t belong on a review website. I find the Anti snake bar or blade stabiliser a bit big and clunky and lets’ be honest quite ugly.
I like the hitch head stabiliser largely because I have always had one. I started with the Al-ko AKS 1300, then I moved onto the Al-ko AKS 2500. I would be more than happy with the new Al-ko AKS 3004, I think its quite frankly damn sexy.
I have experience of the Winterhoff stabiliser which it typically German and that’s a good thing.
I love the AL-KO Active caravan stabiliser, more on that in a bit…
So lets look a bit closer at each of the options
Anti Snake Bar
The anti snake bar is popular and reliable. Boasting over a quarter of a million users of this reliable and easy to use stabiliser.
The manufacturers mention that there is not drilling required with this type of stabiliser, however in most cases there would be no drilling with the hitch head type either – so not the main selling point in my opinion.
What is true though is that an anti snake bar can usually be picked up at about less than a third of the price of the hitch head stabiliser systems.
How do they work?
The anti snake bar comes as three parts. One part fixes to the towing vehicle, the second part fixes to the caravan A frame and the bar attaches to each part. The bar its self is actually two bars connected at a turntable with a friction pad between two plates. Once connected the turntable is tightened and this is what causes the friction that will give the dampening effect.
With this type of stabiliser you continue to use the normal hitch coupling. This means that the lowball should be greased unlike with the hitch head stabiliser where the friction comes from the friction being applied to the towball so shouldn’t be greased.
Advantages of the Anti Snake Bar.
Low cost – This type of stabiliser is around a third of the price of the hitch head stabiliser. Meaning that It may be the best option for someone with a lower value caravan.
Great for learning – because you can see the turntable you can get a greater appreciation for what the device does. Great for a new starter.
Transferable – because all three components are not permanently attached to the towing vehicle of the caravan then these devices are great to transfer from one vehicle to the next. This could mean that this is a great device for someone who regularly moves caravans for others.
Better Stabilising? Some say that due to the large area of the friction plate, that the anti snake device gives a better, more stable effect than hitch head stabilisers, however we don’t have any actual scientific study to back this up, just the opinion of veteran caravaners.
Disadvantages of the Anti snake bar
Heavy and large – This is a particular problem if you intent to remove the bar when not in use and want to store it somewhere. The bar can also get quite dirty if used in the wet (as it sometimes is in England!) this can mean that removal at site is a bit of a dirty job.
The fact is that these anti snake bars are practical, low cost and easy to fit. If you are starting out in caravaning for the first time with a van under two grand, the. You probably don’t want to spend a quarter of the value of the caravan purchasing a stabiliser, making these an excellent choice. Also for someone who wants to move caravans for others this can be a great tool.
The Hitch Head Stabiliser
The most popular type of caravan stabiliser and the type fitted to most modern caravans today is the hitch head stabiliser.
These work in the same way as the anti snake bar in the sense that they cause friction between the towing vehicle and the trailer. However the main difference between the anti snake bar and the hitch head stabiliser is that, with the hitch head stabiliser the friction is applied directly to the tow ball.
When hooking up the caravan you lower the hitch head onto the tow ball in the normal way and the hitch head clicks on. Once the caravan is connected then you use a second mechanism (depending on the brand this may be a side handle on the ALKO or a sliding leaver on the Winterhoff to cause friction pads inside the head to grip onto the tow ball.
Because the friction pads are directly in contact with the tow ball, the tow ball should be dry and grease free.
The AL-KO stabiliser range require an extended neck tow ball, however the Winterhoff can be used with either a standard tow ball or an extended neck tow ball.
AL-KO Vs Winterhoff
The two main manufacturers of hitch head stabilisers are AL-KO and Winterhoff. So which is the best? Well since 2016 both AL-KO and Winterhoff are both part of the same company! Both are owned by DEXKO. Different stabilisers fit different hitch heads so it is not easy (though not impossible) to change between the two brands. In general AL-KO chassis use AL-KO heads and BPW (only supplied to Eldis in the UK use Winterhoff. Sleeves can be used to assist with compatibility of different sized draw shafts. In General I would advise staying with the same brand if it is your intention to purchase online and change the stabiliser yourself.
Below is a table detailing the different weights and pads for each type of stabiliser.
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|Stabiliser Name||Maximum Weight||Number Of Pads||Price|
|Al-KO 1300||1360KG||2||Not Available|
|Al-Ko 2004||2000KG||4||Not Available|
|Al-Ko 3004||3000KG||4||View Price|
Hitch head stabilisers are fitted using two security bolts. This means that theft of the stabilisers its self shouldn’t be too much of an issue but not impossible. Something worth considering due to the high cost of replacement. On the plus side, whilst the stabiliser isn’t designed to be interchangeable between caravans on a regular basis, it can quite easily be changed onto your ned caravan in less than ten minutes but anyone with basic DIY skills providing the stabiliser is compatible.
Replacement of friction pads
Many hitch head stabilisers have an indicator to alert you when friction pads require changing. This is usually a simple system that shows green when the pads have sufficient ware left on the pad and only red when the pads require changing. Pads can be easily changed by anyone with very basic DIY skills and tools.
Reversing with a hitch head stabiliser
Because the hitch head stabiliser work on friction then the sensible thing to do when reversing into a pitch with a hitch head stabiliser is to release the friction leaver. this will prevent unnecessary ware and make the manoeuvre easier.
Brake away cable
The brake away cable is again a very simple safety device. Should the caravan become detached from the car the cable would become pulled and would apply the brakes to the caravan. This may help a little but in the event of detachment, but will do nothing to alleviate the surprise for the driver behind you! The cable has a clip that can be connected to the side of the tow bar, many use the clip to make a loop and hook to loop over the tow ball. Some will criticise you for the second method, however in the the event of detachment I can’t see that it would make a massive difference. The main problem with the brake away cable is when you detach your caravan from the car and forget to detach the brake away cable. As you then pull away from the sited caravan you tend to snap the cable and look like a prat in front of all of the other caravaners sitting watching from their deck chairs. Come on, we’ve all done it?
Trailer Stability Systems
The final type of stabiliser is the very cleaver trailer stability system. The Al-Ko version of this is the ATC or Active Trailer Control system or on BPW chassis the IDC or Intelligent Drive Control system.
On both versions the control box and sensors are situated under the caravan by the axel. The sensors detect say or side to side movement and apply the brakes to bring the caravan back in line. This is an electronic system and should be fitted by a qualified engineer. These stability systems work together with your chosen stabiliser to give additional support and a combination of the two working together would give the best protection possible against most stability issues.
Anti Snake bars are a great option for good stability with an extra large friction area they are preferred by some. The are not the most attractive stabiliser but from a cost point of view they offer the best value. If you have a lower cost older caravan then this would be your best option.
Hitch head stabilisers are what most caravans see on the road today are fitted with. The distinctive red Al-Ko and the blue single handle Winterhoff stabilisers are great options. The winterhoff is slightly more expensive particularly on replacement parts and less common but the WS3500 can cope with greater weight. The Al-ko more common and can cope with most caravans in the UK. I would suggest one of these two brands, both made by the same company but the difference between the two is only slight so I would go with which ever is comparable with your existing head to save yourself any issues.
The ATC or IDC trailer stability systems can be retro fitted and can be an excellent option if used in combination with a hitch head stabiliser. The costs are quite high though, but can you put a price on safety.
Not mentioned so far here another great safety option are tyron bands for caravans.
Frequently asked questions
How do I know which stabiliser I have?
The Winterhoff is Blue and the handle slides along and then down. The Al-Ko AKS 1300 is smaller and has a side handle. The AKS 2004 is metal and has a red handle and the AKS 3004 is metal with a black handle with red writing.
What is the maximum weight of each of the hitch head stabilisers?
The Winterhoff WS3500 has a maximum weight of 3500KG The Winterhoff WS300 has a maximum weight of 3000KG as does the Al-Ko AKS 3004. The AK-Ko 2004 has a maximum weight of 2000KG and the Al-Ko AKS 1300 has a maximum weight of 1360KG
How many friction pads do each of the friction head stabilisers have?
The AL-KO AKS 1300 and the Winterhoff WS3000 and WS3500 all have two pads. The AL-Ko 2004 and 3004 both have four friction pads, two at the side to reduce sway and front and back to reduce pitch.
Do the friction pads get hot?
Not really. You shouldn’t need to have your caravan fire extinguisher on standby!
What is the best way to reduce snaking without a stabiliser?
The best way to reduce snaking is to not allow your caravan to snake in the first place. Good preventative tips are to keep your speed down particularly in exposed sections of the motorway ie elevated sections and sections without shelter at the sides of the motorway from trees or embankments. Keep away from high sided vehicles and reduce speed when turbulence is expected. Keep within the advisory and compulsory speed limits.
Oh, and fit a stabiliser…