Together with a mover, caravan awnings are among the most expensive outdoor accessories you can buy. But for many they’re essential, especially if you have a family and need the extra space.
When you buy a new caravan, however, it’s almost guaranteed that the old awning won’t fit. This creates a dilemma: do you buy a new awning, which can cost several thousand pounds, or pick up a secondhand awning, the condition of which is unknown until you put it up? In either case you’ll then have to try to sell your old awning on, in the hope of recouping some of the cost.
We were faced with this when we changed caravans. We had a three-year-old Isabella awning, but couldn’t justify the cost of a new one. Happily, there is a third option. An email to Isabella confirmed that the firm could enlarge our existing awning to fit the new caravan, at a very reasonable price.
Prices for awning alterations
A reduction in size costs £199 including VAT and carriage, while an enlargement such as ours is £285. When you bear in mind that buying a new Isabella awning as a direct replacement would have set us back a hefty £2332, it looks like something of a bargain. These awning alterations are carried out using the same quality materials as the original, and the same expertise.
Rather than using the collection and delivery service, I decided to visit Isabella’s base in Buckinghamshire to see the alterations being carried out, first-hand. Managing director Steven Biggs was keen to share a little of the history of Isabella, whose parent company is based in Denmark and whose name is derived from the Borgward Isabella car, which went out of production in 1964.
I was then shown the huge warehouse that stocks the various awning models (for both Isabella awnings and sister company Ventura awnings), plus camping furniture, Bolon groundsheets and spare parts.
Step by step
After that it was time to watch our awning go through the alteration process. I was told that there is usually a five- to six-week wait for alterations because the workshop is so busy, with the most frantic time being between Easter and the end of May as the season gets under way.
The first step was to book our awning onto the system and note what modifications were required. In our case, the awning is 1000cm, but our new Lunar Clubman caravan – despite being the same make and model as the old caravan – has an awning length of 1035cm. We had a choice: we could either have it extended to the next recognised size (1025cm), which might make it easier to sell at a later date, or have it made to the correct length of 1035cm.
We opted to have our awning made to fit the new caravan exactly, at 1035cm. One of the benefits of the way that Isabella awning roofs are constructed in sections is that they can be altered in such a way that they look original.
Rather than relying on caravan manufacturers to supply awning lengths, Isabella staff actually measure all new caravans (at shows such as the NEC) so that they know which of their awning sizes is most appropriate. This is all kept on a database that now stretches back a good number of years, and is accessible online. All you have to do is put in the make, model and year of your caravan to search for awnings to fit your caravan.
Under the knife
Once the awning had been checked for its condition, we went into the workshop, where I was introduced to Christine and her colleague Sue, who would be working on our awning.
The first thing Sue did was to remove the D-rings at each end of the base of the awning bead. This was then followed by the removal of the profile (the strip to which the fixing clips attach on the roof ), then the awning bead itself. Next, the stitching on the triangular panel at each end of the roof was unpicked so that it could be taken off. Any reinforcing patches and eyelets from that area are also removed. Because there was a double row of stitching on the roof seam, a strip 1cm wide was cut off so that there wouldn’t be any holes that could either be a weakness or allow any awning leaks when the new panel was sewn in. This 1cm was added to the new insert’s dimensions.
Once the roof section had been removed, a new piece was rolled out (in the same material as the original) and the old part was laid on to form a template. However, the increased measurements were used when it was marked out (adding 18.5cm to each panel). Once these had been cut to size, it was time to start the reassembly.
A special tool feeds the materials into the sewing machine, which puts a double seam into the awning roof join. This adds strength and ensures that it is waterproof. The new panel was sewn to the ‘Harlequin’ section at the end of the roof, before the reinforcing patch at the front corner could be replaced along with a new eyelet (where the support pole attaches).
It was then time to attach a new awning bead of the required length, plus reinforcing tape – as used on the original – which helps to prevent the bead’s tape becoming damaged when it is fed into the awning channel on the side of the caravan. After that, the D-ring at each end was replaced, before a new profile was stitched on.
The final job for Sue and Christine was to fold the awning and replace it in its storage bag, completing a remarkably quick and efficient awning extension process.
Make do and mend your awning
As well as alterations, awning repairs can be made to any panels, along with bespoke additions. For example, while Sue was working on our awning, Steve brought in a customer’s annexe for a curtain to be attached to the trademark Isabella ‘porthole’.
For us, this was a cost-effective way of getting an awning for the new caravan, with the peace of mind that comes with having had it done by the people who made it in the first place. Not only that, but the awning doesn’t look as though it’s been altered at all, and the awning can even be put back to its original size should there be a need in the future.
So before you fork out for a new awning, contact the manufacturer of your existing model to see if they offer the same service, or try one of the many independent companies that offer awning repairs and alterations.