Should you travel with water tanks full or empty?

Article by RV Daily Out of all the issues that caravanners argue over, the question of full or empty water tanks while travelling is one I’ve never fully understood. As far as I’m concerned, if …

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Jul 01 2020
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Article by RV Daily

Out of all the issues that caravanners argue over, the question of full or empty water tanks while travelling is one I’ve never fully understood. As far as I’m concerned, if I needed water at my next camping destination, I’d fill my tanks. Otherwise, I’d travel with them empty. But some people have very strong opinions on both sides of the fence. So, this month, we take an in-depth look at the question and discuss the pro and cons of travelling with your water tanks empty or full.


Stability in windy conditions

Having your water tanks full puts a lot of weight down low in the caravan, lowering the centre of gravity and, supposedly, increasing stability. This is particularly noticeable when driving in windy conditions. Some sections of the Bruce and Pacific highways (in the east) are prone to substantial crosswinds and are notorious for caravan rollovers. Whether or not these are all caused by the wind is debatable however, having additional weigh down low will make the caravan less susceptible to severe crosswinds.

Good quality water supply

Water quality varies across the country. Some places are blessed with great tasting and clean water straight out of the taps whereas other places don’t. The reasons for poor quality water are varied but among the usual suspects are a bore water supply, old water pipes or drought conditions. By travelling with your water tanks full, you’ll always have a supply of good drinking water available.

Keeps your options open

If you’re the sort of traveller that doesn’t like to plan your trips too much, you may want to give yourself the option of stopping overnight at a free camp rather than keep driving on to the next caravan park. Free camping without water is no fun so having a supply on board at all times means you can pull up for the night anywhere you like and have a shower if you so desire.


Less weight means better fuel economy

There’s no escaping the fact that carrying more water means you’re towing a greater weight and, the more weight your tow vehicle has to pull, the more fuel it will use. All tow vehicles are different, but I have noticed our Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series will use an additional one litre of fuel per 100km for every 100 litres of water we have onboard. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but over time and distance, with a possible 270 litres of water on board, we certainly notice the difference at the fuel bowser.

Less wear and tear in the tow vehicle

The more weight the tow vehicle has to pull, the harder it has to work and that results in greater wear and tear. You may find you will need to do more frequent oil changes when towing especially with the constant need to pull the extra weight of full water tanks. Transmissions also work harder with the additional weight and they may require more frequent servicing as a result.

Less wear and tear on the van’s suspension

The vast majority of caravans have fairly basic leaf spring suspension. The constant movement in the springs develops friction between the leaves, which causes them to wear out over time. Adding to their workload by keeping your water tanks full means these springs work harder and can wear out much quicker.

Less cargo capacity for other items

Most tandem-axle caravans will have a cargo capacity of anywhere between 400kg and 600kg. If you have two 90-litre water tanks and you fill them up every time you hit the road, there’s 180kg of cargo gone, and you haven’t stored a single personal item inside the van as yet. The situation could be worse with single axle caravans.

Instability issues

I often hear caravanners saying that their vans are unstable when the water tanks are empty, therefore they always travel with the water tanks full. They will sometimes get this advice from the caravan manufacturer. A well-designed caravan should be stable regardless of how much water it is carrying.

If you find that your caravan is unstable with empty water tanks, regardless of the prevailing weather conditions, you probably need to look at how other items are stored in it to ensure you haven’t incorrectly distributed the load. Either that or your caravan has a serious design flaw and needs to be checked by a qualified caravan repairer.

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