Helping you along your caravan journey.

Caravan appliance and utility overview

Table of Contents

If you are new to caravanning, and you’re not sure what everything does or how it works, this guide is designed to help you.

What is the 240V mains used for in a caravan?

As you may already know, a caravan generally uses 3 different power sources:

  • 240V Mains
  • 12V leisure battery
  • Gas

Each of these power sources have different jobs to do around the caravan, and some do more than one job. This explanation is typical of most common style, UK manufactured caravans, but some can vary.

The 240V supply to a caravan has several non-essential jobs, which include:

  • Additional lighting
  • Plug sockets for high power accessories (kettles, toaster, electric heater etc)
  • Charging the 12V leisure battery
  • Air conditioning
  • Built in electric heater (if fitted)
  • Fridge freezer
  • Water heater
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plug of electrical connection for camping car

When on a serviced pitch, it would be most beneficial to run as many appliances as possible through your 240V as this included within the cost of the pitch.

What is gas used for in a caravan?

Gas is a more essential element to a caravan, especially if you intend to go off-grid. The list of jobs your gas can carry out around your caravan include:

  • Built in heating
  • Cooker
  • Fridge freezer
  • Hot water heater

When on a serviced pitch, you would only need the gas for cooking. Taking advantage of the 240V hook up would ultimately save you money as it is included in the cost of your pitch.

What is the 12V leisure battery used for in a caravan?

Almost every modern day caravan will be fitted with at least one leisure battery, which is another essential component if you intend to go off-grid. 12V battery will control…

  • Water pump
  • Lighting
  • Motormover
  • Electric Toilet Flush (if fitted)
  • Charging small electrical items
  • Radio

What do I need to go off-grid in a caravan?

If you are looking to use your caravan off-grid but still intend to live comfortably with the use of your van’s facilities, then a full gas bottle and a fully charged leisure battery are required. To extend the use of the leisure battery, the addition of a solar panel would help keep it charged for longer trips away.

The gas and 12V power supply combined will give you running cold water, hot water, heating, a fridge to keep your food cool and the ability to use the cooker. You’ll even have the added benefit of lighting, so you can work out what all the buttons do after dark.

Using your caravan off-grid is an activity usually reserved for the more experienced caravanner, as learning how to use the relevant appliances with gas can be daunting initially. As you get more confident in using everything your caravan has to offer, it is definitely worth exploring, as many off-grid sites can be less busy and more picturesque.

How does the caravan toilet work?

Most caravans are fitted with a toilet cassette, which is essentially a toilet seat with a container underneath that collects all the nasty stuff. The toilet looks like any other toilet from first glance and are usually fitted with either a manual or electric flush. The flush has its own water tank which can be refilled from outside through a little locked door. Beneath the water tank door will be a larger door where the cassette lives. This can be removed when full and emptied at the designated Elsan point.

Use your cassette toilet without chemicals at your peril. Emptying the toilet cassette is an interesting task at the best of times, but doing it without the right chemicals is not for the faint-hearted. Blue Elsan chemicals are an essential element for keeping your caravan smelling fresh and keeping the person on toilet duty sane. Pink chemicals can also be added to the flush tank to keep the toilet bowl clean when flushing if you so wish.

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Man emptying caravan tank toilet cassette in dump point during road trip in France. Dumping station for recreational vehicle.

How does the Motor Mover work?

Not all caravans are fitted with a motor mover, as this is usually an added extra when new. You can identify if you have one by looking close to the tyres, if you see a metal rotary wheel and motor located close to the tyre, then a motor mover is present. A motor mover is extremely helpful for manoeuvring a heavy caravan into tight spots. The motor mover runs off the 12V leisure battery and will usually have a small remote which controls the direction from which it will travel.

To engage the motor mover onto the tyre, you will either need to use a handle (provided) or some later models will engage the tyre automatically using the remote. Once engaged, the RC mover will move the caravan independently in every direction at a snail pace speed in order to give you plenty of time to react. If you intend to use this helpful device often, it is important to keep your leisure battery topped up either by your 240V supply or with solar panels. Once the 12V power is drained, you’ll be left pulling and pushing the caravan around to get it in the right spot, which can prove challenging if you are on gravel or a slope. You can check the health of your 12V leisure by using a multi meter…

How does my caravan fridge work?

Unlike the fridge we all have in our homes, the caravan fridge freezer can be powered in 3 different ways.

  • 12V when towing
  • 240V
  • Gas

This surprising feature means that you use it almost anywhere without having to plug it into the mains! Some people recommend running the fridge on gas in hot weather, as it can run more efficiently.

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Caravan fridge freezer

How can I cook food in a caravan?

All caravans are fitted with a gas oven and hob, so always make sure you have the gas topped up before you go away. However, there are facilities you can use if your caravan is fitted with added features. Some higher spec caravans are fitted with an external 240V socket for the use of a Teppanyaki/kettle/toaster or a gas point for your gas BBQ. In our opinion, the best way to cook when away with your caravan is the good old-fashioned charcoal BBQ.

How does the heating work in my caravan?

Caravan heating is designed to work efficiently on a serviced pitch and off-grid. In order to achieve this, most heaters are fitted with 240v electric elements and also a gas burner. It is also quite common to have ducting pipes running all around the van, which distributes the warm air evenly using the built-in fan.

Top Tip. Always make sure you have a spare AA battery for the gas heater. The battery is hidden inside the cover and is used to power the ignition for the gas burner.

How does my caravan heat the water?

Most modern caravans are fitted with a hot water tank at the front or centre of the van. The tank can usually be found under one of the bench seats. When the aqua roll (water butt) is connected with the water pump outside, it will feed the hot water tank before travelling to the taps. Once full, the water can be heated either by gas or 240v mains electric, which can take up to 20 minutes to fully heat. Once heated, this can be used to feed all the taps and shower. Be aware that the hot water may not last for too long as the tank is only a maximum capacity of 15 litres.

Top Tip. Never turn on the hot water switch when the tank is empty, as this is likely to damage the heater element inside.

Top Tip 2. Remember to take the ventilation cover off from the outside when in use, otherwise it will go bang!

Top tip 3. Be careful which water cleaning chemicals you run through the system, as some can corrode the heater components inside the take. DO NOT USE MILTON STERILISING FLUID!

If you need any further information on how your caravan utilities and appliances work, please join our Facebook group, where you’ll find hundreds of knowledgeable members always willing to offer support.

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