Last updated 20 April 2020
Campervan safety and security tips
How to keep you and your motorhome safe should be your primary priority, even if you are only hiring it. As an experienced campervan and motorhome traveller, I will still admit to only being completely free of angst upon the return of the vehicle in one piece at the end of the hire. Similarly, if we have had a trip without incident of any kind, it’s worth banking. Even if you own your own motorhome, I am quite sure you will want to keep it as secure as possible.
With all the very best of intentions, things outside of your control can make an attempt to derail your trip and also your finances.
There are many things you can do to try to minimise the risk, and therefore the anxiety, allowing you to focus on the great experience of travelling in a campervan.
This is our guide for motorhome safety for hired motorhomes and campervans. Owners of motorhomes install more proprietary security systems, however, this is not the subject of this article.
Campervan and motorhome security
Read everything you are given! Read it properly!
I’ve previously mentioned this in 5 tips for a successful campervan pickup. Without a good understanding of the vehicle you are operating, important actions could get missed.
Of critical importance are such things as:
- Knowing the type of fuel the vehicle uses and where to fill it up. It might sound odd, but we have been in campervans before where finding the fuel tank has not been obvious.
- It will be a very expensive mistake for you if you fill it with the wrong fuel plus you are likely to breakdown when the vehicle realises it can’t operate on petrol or diesel.
- Working knowledge of the heating/cooling system and the water system. Failing to pay attention to this could result in significant damage to the vehicle and once again an expensive charge at the end of your hire.
- Oil checks.
- Operation (including emptying) of the toilet.
- An understanding of how the house (auxiliary) battery works and when it should and shouldn’t be used.
- Most of the modern motorhomes have electronic panels that show water, electricity and waste levels. Know how to read it so you will know how to avoid an issue.
Understand what you are insured for
In the beginners guide to campervan hire in Europe, I talked about comprehensive and Collision Damage Waiver insurance, and also the need to have your own cover. Most, if not all, hiring companies these days will include comprehensive insurance in your rate. Collision Damage Waiver (excess) insurance is usually optional and seeks to reduce the amount of excess you will be liable for in the event of damage/loss.
Don’t automatically assume that everything is covered under a comprehensive insurance policy. It is in your interests to know exactly what is and isn’t covered. It also helps reinforce the care you need to extend to your hired vehicle.
The following items may not be included in the comprehensive cover.
- Interior damage
- Damage to the undercarriage of the vehicle
- Damage to water system/pipes
- Use of incorrect fuel
- Lost keys
- Recovery of a bogged vehicle if driven off the road
- Personal loss of belongings
- Damage if driven into a country you are not covered for
- Depending on the country certain damage is not covered – eg ash, gravel damage in Iceland
To add weight to my argument of making sure you are insured, the photo below shows some of the possible costs for a replacement in the event that these events happen to you.
Ultimately you should be aiming to protect everything on board! Remember, it’s not your vehicle.
Excesses apply even for incidents that are covered. Through no fault of our own, we have had two windscreens hit, and damaged, by stones on motorways. In Europe, it is illegal to drive with a broken windscreen, so a full replacement is required. In these instances, we have had to pay the excess to the hiring company, and then follow through with our own travel insurer to claim it back.
Know the dimensions of your campervan or motorhome
This is a critically important piece of information you need. So that we never have to spend more than a second thinking about it, I print the vehicle’s details out at home and bring it with me, placing it in the cabin and near the back door. Good hiring companies will also have this noted somewhere really obvious.
Knowing these could mean the difference between you taking the top off your campervan, wiping out your mirrors, or getting stuck under a bridge or between a rock. You don’t want to be that person!
These are the key things that we always follow. It quite often feels as though we have two drivers. Not the usual backseat kind, just an extra set of eyes looking out for the unexpected.
- When reversing, always have a spotter. The spotter looks for the obvious obstacles and then looks for the less obvious – like protruding rocks, uneven banks etc. If you have bikes on the back remember to watch out for these as well. Sometimes it might look like we are being over-cautious but I’d prefer to be that person if it means limiting the potential for damage and cost. The rear of most motorhomes and campervans is plastic and rocks and sharp objects can easily tear these apart. The bumpers are usually quite low to the ground so it is best to be cautious when reversing to park, especially where there might be bollards in chopping centre carparks and on natural landscapes.
- Remember you’re not a Formula One driver and you are most certainly not in an F1 car. These things are huge and cannot pull up in a hurry. Always be mindful of where you are driving and those around you.
- Always stay alert, looking out for possible hazards and always look out for other drivers. Europeans drive at a much more frantic pace than many people are used to and will dart in and around you without so much as a glance. Kids, dogs, road work objects like witches hats, things flying out of cars on motorways….it can all happen.
- If you aren’t used to driving on the RHS of the road, also slow down and be extra cautious, especially if it is your first time.
- Read up on the road rules and look for anything different to what you are used to.
- Danger points when driving are those where you are lulled into a moment of forgetfulness or habit. For us, since we do most of our driving on the LHS when in Europe we do a couple of extra things to keep us on track. When pulling out of a large service station on a motorway, or when coming out of carparks (eg shopping centres) where we may have been out of the vehicle for a while, we always remind ourselves before we pull out onto the road or the motorway of the correct side of the road to be driving on. Otherwise, it’s easy for habit to take over and pull out into the path of oncoming vehicles.
- In the event that we are unsure, we stop the vehicle, get out and assess the situation more closely.
Lockdown everything before you drive
The main offenders externally are usually the steps still down, the vents open and cables still attached to service points. Internally, it’s usually things left lying loose on beds or tables, and cupboards and drawers not secured. We normally go through a checking process each time we take off to make sure we’ve got all these covered off. You’ll hear me saying things like, “cupboards locked, vents down, and stairs up”
All of these tips are important, but this one could be really annoying and expensive. Loss/theft of keys or locking them in the vehicle may not be covered by insurance, meaning it will cost you to get a new set, locks opened etc. More so however will be the annoyance from the delays in not being able to get into your campervan. Murphy’s Law has it that this type of stuff usually happens in the middle of nowhere too.
It might look over the top, but when I know the consequences of locking them in, I don’t care. I print labels like the one below at home and take them with me, then place them in the front cabin and near the back door as well.
We also get into a habit of calling our “Have you got the keys” whenever we get in and out of the campervan. To prevent losing them, they always go into the same spot in my handbag.
This includes the experience of the driver, the road conditions and the weather. I’m happy to drive the campervan when I’m on the motorways but not in small villages. I have a real issue with spatial assessments, so putting me in a big vehicle in small spaces is a disaster waiting to happen (or at best a lot of yelling from my husband 🙂 ).
Don’t leave anything outside the vehicle
If you have tables and chairs that you hired, put them away in the storage compartment when you are not using them, especially overnight.
If you have hired bikes, always ensure the locks are wrapped through them and they are securely fastened on the bike racks.
Have emergency contact details
In the event of an incident, you will need to have the contact details of your hiring company handy. Access to a phone is vital as you may also need to contact local police, paramedics etc.
Keep your doors locked when driving
This is obviously more important if driving in dubious areas, but we just apply the rule as standard. When driving, the cabin doors are locked. We often have a lot of equipment sitting on the dashboard, in the pockets, which could tempt some less than honest people. When you are driving in the front, the back door could be accessible, so best to keep it locked as well.
Also keep the vehicle locked at all times when you are not in it. This includes stopping along a roadside to admire a river, visiting a local market in a small village or going to the bathroom at a campground. Always reduce the risk of opportunists taking advantage of an open or unlocked door.
Don’t leave valuables out in the open
We’re OCD tidy people, so everything is always put away into cupboards each day, so there’s rarely anything on offer to tempt anyone. In the event that you don’t do this, make sure your valuables are always well hidden and out of the view of possible prying eyes. We also use a bike lock inside to tie our bags and suitcases together. The harder you can make it for someone to remove items from your vehicle, the less likely they are to do so.
Pull up the internal shutters
To assist with protecting your belongings, most campervans come with blinds and/or curtains (or both). Whenever you aren’t in the campervan, pull them up. It might make it look like no one is at home, but they’ll never really know, and once more, it stops your belongings being on public display.
Use motorhome security devices
It’s easy enough these days to buy a sticker with a “Dog Onboard” sign – make it a German Shepherd, not a breed that looks like it will lick you to death.
Alternatively, get some RFID security stickers so that it looks like you have a security system installed. When push comes to shove, a would-be thief will go to the next campervan before it touches yours.
We also use door locks that are portable and can be placed on the doors when we leave. If someone were to enter a huge alarm sound would be emitted, guaranteeing that someone will hear.
Don’t park in unsafe areas
This applies to both day and night. Apply the same decision-making process to ensure your safety as you would at home. If the area looks dodgy, then it probably is. Travelling in a campervan affords you almost every freedom, including free camping. But there have been times and locations where the isolation felt unsafe, not private and where the volume of people felt unsafe as opposed to giving protection in numbers. Use common sense at all times and if in doubt stay in an official campground.
We do not recommend parking overnight in the parking areas of large service centres on the motorways. There have been instances of robberies occurring here. Despite the fact that they are not very nice places to stay and very noisy, for security sake find somewhere else to stay.
We use and recommend the France Passion network. It’s free and there are some incredible places to stay all over France
Share the driving
If possible, share the driving load. If not, make sure you plan your trip so that you have enough rest stops. It’s easy to drive huge distances in Europe, but if you’re not used to it, it’s best to break it up. Even if you are used to it, apply a safety-first perspective and take breaks. All drivers of hired motorhomes must be on the hiring agreement and approved by the hiring company.
Keep your campervan safe at all times
How to keep you and your campervan safe? It’s easier than you think. Most, if not all of these tips rely largely on exercising common sense and not pushing your boundaries too much.
Take it easy, take your time, think clearly, take precautions where you can, and always, always defer on the side of safety. The best campervan trip you can ever have is the one where you, your travelling companions and your vehicle come home in one piece.
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Please note: Beer and Croissants provides you with accurate information at time of writing but makes no representations or provides any warranty or coverage of liability for bookings made with France Motorhome Hire or any other hiring company.