There’s one thing that has always annoyed me about our caravans and campers; the jockey wheel.
I have not been able to find a system that I have completely happy with. The camper’s we’ve had used the swing away variety but I’ve found the pivot mechanism to be a weak point resulting in bending of the wheel. Both caravans have had the removable unit that is attached using 2 screw clamps positioned in the middle of the A frame. These are awkward to get to and the clamps are damn fiddly. Then you have the problem of where to store the jockey wheel when you’re on the road. I never really found a good spot to store it where it wasn’t in the way of other stuff. What I wanted was a jockey wheel that I could leave in the holder but could retract it so it was is out of the way when travelling. Well I’m glad to report I have found such a device.
It’s called the BOS 370 Jockey Wheel and it is absolutely brilliant. It uses a geared winding mechanism to raise and lower the shaft. The ends are interchangeable depending on what unit you buy. I went with the straight base plate instead of the traditional wheel as the team at BOS advised that it is not really useful for a huge van like ours. You can also attach extensions to the base plate in order to cater for uneven sites. The mechanism can be operated by either the hand winder or using an ordinary clutched battery drill, the later make raising and lowering your caravan a breeze.
Best of all, once the base plate and any extensions have been removed using the quick release cotter pins, the shaft can be fully retracted sufficiently to allow the unit to remain in place. No need to remove it from the clamps. To me, this is the best part of the system.
We’ll be giving the BOS unit a good workout shortly on our up and coming trip to Stradbroke Island so we’ll do a complete review later. For now, if you’re a bit frustrated with your existing jockey wheel, the BOS370 may be worth a look.
Having a keen interest in all things caravanning and camping, I spend a bit of my spare time scrolling through various facebook groups and caravanning forums. More often than not, they are a great source of information as well as ideas for this blog. Recently I have noticed a troubling increase in the number of posts that advocate for completely unsafe practices particularly when it comes to 240v mains power. The old argument about plugging a caravan into a domestic 240v 10 amp power supply is the most common. Others are about the use of generators and inverters. These topics seem to start off innocently enough with the original poster having a genuine question to ask but many of the replies that follow just defy belief. It is incredible the number of people who suggest that making up your own power lead with a 10 amp point at one end and a 15 amp plug at the other and try to justify its safety and legality. I have even read a post from one person, whose son was supposedly a qualified electrician, claim it was a totally legal thing to do. I cannot imagine any self-respecting electrician making such a claim especially when the laws about this are so clear.
Other troubling advice I have read suggests to grind down plugs so that they fit the smaller outlets. Others suggest that drilling out the power point to accept the larger plugs is also acceptable. Fortunately, many forum and facebook group administrators have recognised the issue and are now deleting these posts. Apart from the fact that people posting such advice are actually incriminating themselves on a public forum, the possibility that someone could actually think this advice is correct and act accordingly means lives are put at risk. The question of liability in such an event would be very interesting indeed.
There is another troubling side-track that has also emerged from these posts. That being the behaviour of some caravan park managers and their blatant disregard for electrical safety. Some allegedly have been handing out illegal power cords and instructing their tenants to use 10 amp outlets for their RVs. Worse is the tenants have actually been using them…! Truly staggering behaviour.
It is so important that we are all aware of the laws and have a clear understanding of what is safe and what is unsafe. This is especially true for the novice and the experienced caravanner alike. We have an article on electrical safety with pictures of the sort of things to look out for as well as a summary of the laws in question.
In essence though, the advice is very clear and simple. No one should be doing any work beyond changing a fuse or light bulb on anything 240v related unless they are a qualified electrician. Any electrical work must be accompanied with a certificate of electrical safety. Don’t listen to the trolls on forums and facebook groups. Only use electrical products purchased from reputable retail outlets.
If in doubt, talk to a reputable and licenced electrician. It really is that simple.
With our impending trip to Stradbroke Island rapidly approaching, I thought it was about time I got busy with some additions to our Landcruiser, Olaf.
First off was the installation of a ScanGuage to monitor Olaf’s vital information like transmission temperature and fuel use.
Next was to put some 12v power outlets in the rear storage area so we can run our fridge and other accessories.
As with anything we do to Olaf, Kylie doesn’t want it to look like the DeLorean from the movie Back to the Future. She wants everything to look stock and no holes drilled in the trim. Fortunately I managed to do this with both which made my life a lot easier.
I’m pretty happy with the results. More detailed notes on the installations can be found at the links below.
Having previously owned both diesel and petrol vehicles and also having towed with both, I thought I had this question well and truly sorted out in my own mind years ago. These days, I think the answer is not so clear cut. Let me explain:
I once owned a Land Rover Discovery V8 petrol 4WD. When I had it, I was earning a pretty good wage and I had never experienced owning and driving a diesel before. The only diesels I had ever driven were naturally aspirated Landcruisers and Patrols and these wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice custard. As a busy sales rep buzzing around the state, I needed something that was capable of keeping up with Melbourne’s traffic. The Disco was a lot of fun to drive. The 3.8l engine was small by V8 standards but, shuffling through the gears, it revved pretty well and propelled the large 4wd very nicely indeed. It would never set the tyres alight but, for a 4wd, it was very respectable. The noise from the exhaust was also quite pleasing. All this performance came at a cost. A hefty one. 80 litres of fuel would be gone in 450ks. That’s 17.7l/100ks on a good day….! For a boy who had not owned anything bigger than a 2l Camry, this sort of fuel consumption was a shock to the system, and the hip pocket. The limited range was also a major headache when venturing off road. Even a short weekend in the Victorian Alps had to be planned to include a fuel stop along the way at some point. Failure to do so would leave my heart in my throat and my eye on the fuel gauge. Not a lot of fun. When I started towing even a modest load, the story was even worse. 20l/100ks on the open highways was as good as it would get with our sub 2t Bush Hopper trailer in tow. For outback travel, this sort of range was completely unsatisfactory. I had to do something.
I changed the V8 over to a diesel version of the same car. The Discovery with the 300tdi engine was a complete revelation. For a 2.5l 4 cylinder diesel engine, it had sufficient poke to keep up with the traffic. It was not as quick as the V8, but it didn’t feel like it lacked for any power, such was the low end delivery of its substantial torque. Best of all, you could give the engine the beans all day and it would consistently return fuel consumption figures of 10l/100ks every single fill up. That’s twice the V8’s range. Towing the same trailer, this figure would rarely rise above 13l/100ks. I was very happy and kept this car for over 11 years. As far as I was concerned at the time, anyone not driving a turbo diesel 4wd was kidding themselves.
Other 4wds at the time seemed to confirm my theory. The 80 series Crusiers were mainly being bought with the 4.5l straight six and even with twin cams and multivalve fuel injection, they still sucked down fuel at rates comparable to the old Disco V8. Even when Toyota and Nissan started turbo charging their 6 cylinder diesels, their fuel consumption wouldn’t get anywhere near the Disco’s.
Move time along another 10 years. The good old Disco was gone and we were 8 years into owning a Nissan Patrol 3.0CRD. Time had come to upgrade to something with a lot more grunt and towing capacity. I was still convinced a diesel was the way to go and we eventually settled on a 200 series Crusier V8 diesel and it hasn’t disappointed us in any way thus far. Its fuel economy is remarkable given the power this engine produces. It’s a fantastic vehicle. However there are a few caveats on this. Its fuel use can get into the higher end of the diesel spectrum if you give it the beans on a regular basis. We don’t drive it like we’ve stolen it, preferring to enjoy the relaxed nature of the big 8, but I have no doubt that if we were to partake in the traffic light drags a bit more, this consumption around town would go into the 13l/100k territory. That is still not bad for a 2.6t V8 auto full size 4WD…!
With a van on the back, obviously fuel consumption increases. Our Roadstar Safari Tamer is near on 3.5t fully loaded and this can see our fuel use increase to between 17.5 and 22l/100ks. By today’s standards that’s fairly high for a diesel but it’s not unreasonable. Many factors come into play here. Road conditions, prevailing winds, higher speeds all conspire to increase our fuel use.
So…back to the question of petrol or diesel. Until recently, there wasn’t a lot of choice if you wanted a full size 4WD. The 200 series cruiser was basically it and the petrol variant gulped down fuel like it was happy hour at the brewery. I’ve read about one fellow who’s petrol Cruiser managed to gulp down 39l/100ks driving into a stiff head wind towing less than 3t…!! He said he could actually see the fuel gauge move as he drove along.
Now there’s a new Nissan Patrol on the market, the Y62. Its 5.6l V8 is, by all accounts, a gem of an engine. Its capable of sedan like speeds and can effortlessly tow big loads up to 3.5t. But early reports about its fuel consumption quickly scared off buyers. I saw one report where a tow test resulted in fuel consumption of an eye watering 34l/100ks…! That’s around 450k range from 150 litres of fuel. Fuel consumption on that scale is nothing short of frightening.
The Y62 Patrol has been with us for a while now and it seems some of those early reports may have been a bit anomalous. Still more recent reports and feedback from actual users varies greatly but in real world conditions, for a given circumstance, the Y62 will consume anywhere between 5 and 7l/100ks more fuel than a diesel 200 series Landcruser. But the Patrol can be purchased for around $20,000 less than a Landcruiser of similar spec. You can buy a lot of fuel for $20,000….! Actually, at around $1.50 per litre, that’s about 13,000 litres. Even at 20l/100ks, that quantity would be sufficient for around 65,000ks to get to the breakeven point. Looking at those sort of figures, why the hell would anyone buy a diesel Landcruiser?
Well…the answer to that is simple. How many people would actually put aside $20,000 in the bank purely to be used for fuel over the lifetime of vehicle ownership? Not too many I don’t think. It’s just not a practical solution. No matter how you look at it, you still have to put fuel into that large fuel tank and you’ll be doing it more often than you would with a diesel powered vehicle. Then there’s the outback travel thing I’m always on about. It is still possible to have to travel 500ks or more between fuel stops. If you want to avoid smaller isolated fuel stops, you could increase those distances to 800ks or more in many instances. As a result, touring range starts to become a real issue. Then there’s the availability of unleaded fuel. The Y62 loves higher octane 95RON. While it is much more widely available than it may have been 15 years ago, it may not be available everywhere. Even in some remote areas, petrol may not be available at all. You be forced to fill up with Opel fuel or Avgas. Both of which have their own nasty issues. On the other hand, diesel is literally available everywhere.
Now I can hear the chorus of petrol owners out there carrying on about fuel contamination and water in diesel and, yes I acknowledge it’s an issue, but, I maintain that it is far easier to eliminate this risk by the use of additional filters. Further, the fact a diesel has more chance of getting to major fuel stops separated by greater distances reduces this risk considerably.
At the end of the day, the decision is up to the individual and what they value most. If you’re not venturing too far away from the major centres and you can live with more frequent trips to the bowser, then save your money and buy the Patrol and enjoy that glorious V8 engine. But, if you’re travelling outback, towing a big load and want to get further on your litre of fuel, then the extra investment in a diesel is the way to go.
You hear all the time about how people buy an off road caravan and rarely, if ever, use it for its intended purpose. I would say that is true for a great many owners of off road caravans. Some of us actually do want to take our vans into the terrain they were designed. It sounds easy enough, just take that track to your favourite campsite and live the dream. Unfortunately, the reality is not as simple as it may seem and even a modest 4WD track can become extremely challenging with a 3t caravan in tow.
I have been towing camper trailers all over the country for around 20 years and I have done so in some very extreme off road conditions. Cape York, the Kimberley region, even some of the goat tracks around the local camps in Victoria. Some have been difficult especially with a camper trailer in tow. Others have not caused me to raise a sweat. Overall though, nothing has really given me serious cause for concern. I thought I had off road towing down to a fine art.
Then, last weekend, we took the Safari Tamer to a bush camp in Bonnie Doon in, Victoria, near Lake Eildon. Access to this bush camp was down a narrow track, about 2kms in length. It was a little rutted and, under normal circumstances, it would not have presented a challenge. But there had been a fair amount of rain in the area prior to our visit and the track was pretty muddy and slippery when we arrived. Still, nothing I wouldn’t have thought would have been difficult at all. But put a huge 3.5t caravan on the back of the Crusier and it completely changed the situation. We made it to the campsite with no issues in the end but the experience has taught us some very valuable lessons that we will need to consider for our future off road caravanning adventures.
First off is the sheer size of the whole rig. Lengthwise we would be approximately 12m long so that makes negotiating tight corners very challenging and when the track has even slightly deep ruts, it can be difficult to get a sufficiently wide enough turn to avoid the caravan scraping some trees on the side of the track. The van is also very tall. Low hanging branches suddenly become an major issue. Having a spotter to ensure you have sufficient clearance is vital in these situations. The van is also very wide. There were a couple of gates we had to pass through along this track where there were mere centimetres clearance either side.
Having a competent tow vehicle with strong 4WD capabilities is also vital in these off road situations. I know that sounds obvious but when you consider that we triggered the Cruiser’s traction control in some places, you can begin to understand that a less capable vehicle, although completely competent in normal conditions, may very well have struggled. To be fair, Olaf was still wearing highway terrain tyres which were always going to be challenged in really wet and muddy conditions.
When we arrived at the campsite, we were confronted with a whole set of other issues. We had to find a suitably sized, flat camp site that the van could fit onto that still had sufficient clearance to get out of at the end of the trip. With trees all around, the room for manoeuvring was extremely tight. At one time I came very close to damaging the awning on a tree trunk. It took a couple of goes but we managed to get out unscathed.
I guess the point of all this is that while we had a great time with our first serious off road caravanning experience, it certainly has taught us some valuable lessons. If you’re planning on taking your off road caravan into the kind of terrain it was designed to go, you really need to be ready for the challenges that you’ll be presented with. Careful planning is required as well as a greater sense of awareness and anticipation. You cannot just blindly drive down a track and expect you’ll find a suitable spot to camp and then be able to get out when it’s time to go home.
We spent last weekend at a very special place, Yackandandah Victoria. It was my birthday weekend and I was keen to show Kylie this beautiful little town in Victoria’s north east. Unfortunately, the weather was not so good. An East Coast Low which brought horrible weather to NSW and Queensland had ensured a steady stream of rain fell on the little town. It didn’t let up all weekend.
In most other circumstances, this would have been a terrible weekend but for us it was perfectly fine. In fact, we really enjoyed it. Here’s why…
In our Resources Section is some advice on Essential Caravan Features and number one on that list is a make sure you get a comfortable interior. One that, it you do experience torrential rain for 2 or 3 days in a row, you won’t go stir crazy or feel claustrophobic being couped up inside your van or camper.
When we were looking around at caravans, we tried to imagine what it would be like to have to spend an extended amount of time inside the van. Were the seats comfortable enough to sit in for an hour or more? Could the TV be seen from both the bed and the table at the same time? Was there sufficient windows to allow a good view outside and provide that all-important natural light? Was the bed spacious enough to accommodate both of us and the three dogs together? Could one of us still use the kitchen without getting in the way the other trying to watch TV? All the sort of things you would take for granted inside a house that, at first, don’t seem that important in a caravan or camper but become a real issue if you’re stuck inside for the duration.
Now while we were in Yackandandah, we weren’t completely restricted to caravan park. We did manage to get out a bit and explore the area, but we did have to spend extended periods in the van while it rained outside and I’m glad to say our confidence in the Roadstar’s interior lived up to our expectations.
We were comfortable at all times and even the girls didn’t seem to mind too much being locked up inside.
I put this comfort down to 3 things in particular:
The café lounge with the extendable foot rests is quite large compared to many others and very well padded. It’s very easy to get into a comfortable position.
The offset layout of the kitchen in relation to the lounge means there is sufficient space to walk around each other without compromising on bench space.
The windows are quite large and, combined with the big skylight, allow plenty of natural light into the van.
So, just to reaffirm our advice to anyone looking for a new caravan, camper or motorhome. When you see one you like, take the time to sit in it and just imagine what it would be like to stay inside for a day or more. Try to do the sort of things you would normally do together in a house. You will soon get an appreciation for what it would be like and whether or not you could actually do it without going completely mad.
Winter has arrived and, if the first few days are any indication, we could be in for a chilly three months. Many will likely head off to the warmer northern parts of the country to escape the cold weather but some of us are not quite so fortunate. That said, Victoria, Tasmania, SA and the southern parts of WA are beautiful this time of year so we should make the effort to see our own backyard if we can. Heating our campers and caravans during these trips can make the difference between a bearable experience or extremely comfortable adventure.
In the article below, we look at the various options for heating the interior of our campers and vans and explain some of the dangers involved with a couple of the options. We hope you find it useful.
Roadside vehicle weight checks are indeed being conducted in Victoria and here’s the proof.
This photo may as well be the UFO from Roswell or of a little green man on Mars. This was taken last weekend at Cann River in Victoria and it clearly shows Vic Roads and Vic Police conducting weight checks of a caravan using portable scales. It was part of a state wide operation targeting overweight vehicles of all types, not just caravans. The fact that caravans were included is somewhat unique and has largely been the subject of innuendo and unreliable third hand gossip.
From what I have learned talking to various sources, the authorities are aware of a problem we caravanners have known and talked about for years. That there are a lot of overweight rigs out there and there is some evidence to suggest (or at least the belief) that the number of road crashes involving these overweight rigs is on the increase.
We can expect to see more scenes like this on our major highways.
More photos can be seen here. All photos have been supplied and used with permission.
The underlying message here is be legal and stay safe.
This question has been doing the rounds of the internet for some time now as more and more cases of bent dual cab utes are reported. So what is causing this and are all dual cab utes at risk of bending?
What is it Archimedes said? Give me a lever big enough and I’ll move the earth?
I believe the design of dual cab utes, particularly the latest crop, face a significant deficiency. Their ladder frame chassis provide for a lot of strength in the horizontal plane but little in the vertical plane where twisting forces are at play as well as bending by weight placed at either end. In a 4WD station wagon, the body provides some additional rigidity to the whole chassis to resist these forces, but a ute only has this additional framework at the front of the chassis. The rear is left open and has no physical connection to front other than the chassis itself. I believe this is why, when they are overloaded at the rear, they bend right at the mid-point where the cab ends and the tray begins. It’s the ‘floppiest’, least supported point in the whole structure.
It’s a bit like the issue faced by vehicle manufacturers when they try to convert a sedan or coupe into a convertible. They have to build additional bracing into the chassis to compensate for the reduction in overall rigidity. Under normal driving conditions, this may not be immediately noticeable to the average driver however, under performance driving conditions, the lack of rigidity shows of as sloppy handling and a feeling of flex in the body. Same thing happens with dual cab utes. 99% of the time, that lack of rigidity in the rear is not a problem. Then comes the 1% when the rear is overloaded, creating excessive vertical forces and bending the chassis at the weakest point.
If you do a google image search for bent dual cab utes you’ll soon see the result. Of the ones I’ve seen, they all appear to have a lot of weight a long way behind the rear axle. Either a heavy trailer or a camper conversion and the breakage usually happens on a dirt or outback track. Lots of people place the blame on air bags but I don’t believe these have any more significant part to play other than to lull the owner into a false sense of security about the vehicle’s ability to cope with an additional load.
I believe if you’re going to buy a dual cab ute, especially if you intend to tow a caravan or camper in outback conditions, you will need to be extremely careful with the weights you intend to tow and how you distribute your load across the whole rig.
Lately I’ve read a number of stories of people who have placed orders for a caravan or camper trailer who were initially given a build time or delivery date for their new pride and joy, and find that the manufacturer is unable to meet the promised schedule. And I’m not just talking about a matter of a few days late. I talking about weeks or even months after the initial date. Its heartbreaking to hear these stories especially when many have planned a big trip or a complete change of lifestyle around the delivery of the new RV. They are often quite shocked when they are told, not having received any communication earlier that it may be a possibility. One unfortunate fellow I heard about drove all the way from Melbourne to Brisbane only to be told on arrival the build had not even started.
At first I thought how unscrupulous it was of these dealers/manufacturers not to have informed their customers of these delays, but then I thought about our own experiences and I wondered how it could be that these people found themselves in this situation in the first place. Have they not been in contact with the company in the period between placing the order and the expected delivery date to ensure everything was proceeding on schedule? I started to think that these people who find themselves in this situation may have to accept some responsibility.
We’ve ordered a few 4WDs, campers and caravans over the years and, while we may have been reasonably lucky not to have experienced any major delays, we have always been proactive in our dealings with the dealers. By that I mean we have not waited to be contacted, rather we have initiated the regular contact ourselves. When we have had a specific deadline, we have ensured the dealer is reminded of this so that if there was to be a delay of any sort, we would be in a position to find out as early as possible.
One thing we did with the caravans was to ask for progress photos of the build. While our intention was purely for curiosity, it had the effect of reassuring us the van was actually under construction when the manufacturer said it was.
The other trick is to remember the old saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil”. While I would never say we were annoying, we were firm with our requirements and ensured the other party was well aware of it, in no uncertain terms. We just ensured we were on the top of their minds at all times.
One thing I do want to add is that, while we were waiting for the build of the Roadstar, I visited Noel, the production manager, a few times and I got an insight into the demands and pressures of his job. Building a caravan is much like building a small house. There are dozens of individual components and many are brought in from a number of suppliers. Each component has to be ready to be installed at a particular point in the build process and a delay in any one of these items can set the whole build process back as a result. They even had a dealer go out of business taking the deposit on 5 vans with them. In order to accomodate these unfortunate customers, Roadstar fitted the additional builds into the production schedule, adding further pressure to the process. Being able to manage all this while, at the same time, ensuring the factory keeps to a schedule and maintains the expected level of quality, is a very difficult job indeed. I certainly had no desire to take over Noel’s job.
At the end of the day, communication is the key. Keep in touch with your dealer. Stay on good terms with them but remain firm about your requirements and there really should be no surprises come delivery day.