Big Trip Decision Made. Now What?

Kylie and I have been talking about embarking on a trip around the country for a number of years now but the time has arrived to commit to it and get prepared. With that in mind, we have decided that we will be going for a minimum of 12 months and that we will be leaving by end of April 2018. This has now been communicated to all the other important people in our lives so they can now start to prepare for what it means to them. In many ways, our lives change from this point onwards.

Repairs to one of our fences. It was rotted to the point of collapse.
Making the actual decision and sticking to it is probably the first thing you need to do if you’re going to do this. Without a commitment, there’s no incentive to get prepared, and believe me, that is the single most important and complicated thing to do. This is the point reality starts to bight, and you realise just how much stuff, none of it terribly pleasant, that you just have to work through. To give you an idea, here’s what our thinking has lead us to consider:

1. What are we going to do with the house while we’re gone?
2. How much money are we going to need while we’re away?
3. What income can we rely upon and for how long will it last?
4. What contingencies will we have in place for dealing with emergencies?
5. Preparation of the rig (car and van).
6. Communications capabilities while were away.

Tackling the first question is probably the most significant as it potentially involves leaving us without somewhere to come home to. The options are:

1. Sell the house.
2. Rent out the house.
3. Get in a house sitter.

To make this decision, we have had to consider our actual overall financial position and to consider how we would cope with all the options on the predicted income we expect to have and how much of that will be left over with the ongoing financing of the trip. This is complicated by the need to pay out the lease on the Landcrusier and selling our other car, the Patrol, before we go. It turned out this wasn’t terribly difficult as our financial position is not all that complicated. We don’t have children to consider which makes it considerably easier. Getting a valuation on the house from several real estate agents has also provided us with a lot of guidance. At this stage we are reserving our final decision but the preparations for the house, regardless, are the same. Clean up, perform maintenance and get rid of everything we no longer need.

Now things start getting really scary and confronting, but, tackled with the right attitude, they end up being quite good experiences.

Modifications to the house have been limited to essential items only.

1. Change the carpet throughout the home and re-paint neglected areas.
2. De-clutter by removing old and unnecessary furniture.
3. Throw out anything that hasn’t been touched in years.
4. Sell any unwanted items of value.

Just a portion of the ridiculous amount of stuff we’ve accumulated.
Over the last couple of weekends, we’ve been ruthless with deciding what to throw out and have, thus far, removed 6 trailer loads of stuff and filled a 4 square metre skip with rubbish. It’s amazing what you accumulate over time…! We gave a lot of useful electrical items, books and other stuff to a local charity and much of our rubbish was recyclable, reducing the expense of tip fees.

We’ve started the maintenance on the house. All upstairs has been repainted and we’ve got a start on the exterior. A plasterer is coming to fix a few bits and we are replacing all the toilets. The bathrooms are getting a freshen up. The garden is being simplified and made presentable.

We still have a very long way to go but, for the first time since we decided to do this, it actually feels like it will now be a reality and we are actively working towards this goal. No more stuffing around.

Safe travels.

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Independent Caravan Weigh – In Day MtGambier 2017

organised by Everything Caravan and Camping and RVeeThereYet

Four months ago, Matt Sutton, owner of the Everything Caravan and Camping Facebook Group, came to me with an idea. He wanted to run independent caravan weigh-ins across the country, starting in his home town of Mt Gambier. I thought it would be a good idea, but I didn't think we would get too many takers in a small country town in SA. How wrong I was...!

Last weekend, we had the first of our weigh-ins and right from the start I knew we were in for a big day. When we arrived at the car-park where the event was run, there was already over 10 vans lined up waiting. By day's end we had weighed 48 rigs...!

Most of the rigs weighed were caravans, but we also had a few camper trailers and a couple of motorhomes thrown in for good measure.

The results...? Well we were quite surprised to find that most rigs were within 50kgs of their maximum weights. Given the margin for error in our scales, this is a very positive result. Most rigs were packed and ready for an extended trip with full water tanks and stocked fridges. There were around 10 vans that were well under their limits, which again is an excellent outcome. There were 4 vans that were well overweight, one being 400kgs over his ATM.

All up, it was an extremely successful day. We were fortunate to have great instructions of what to do provided by Graeme Shenton, the police officer who ran the recent operation in Newmerella, Victoria. We were also fortunate to have Matt's mate Kallen Westbrook, who worked tirelessly all day with me on the scales.

Special thanks go to Wendy and Steve McCallum and Rosie and Tony McKeough who bought us all coffees and snacks, and to Matt's wife, Paula, who who bought us lunch. Thank you for your support.

The next weigh in will be held in Melbourne at a location to be determined. Keep an eye out on the Everything Caravanning and Camping group and RveeThereYet.com for details.

Safe Travels

Generators – Decision Time

Recently we did a comparison test between 4 different portable generators in order to determine which one would be best suited to the average caravanner or camper. That test highlighted a few things to me about using a generator in the real world not the least of which was the physical exertion involved in physically handling a 20 to 30KG generator in a camping environment.

For a bit of a history lesson, my first generator was a Honda EX-350 which was only used as a backup to charge the camper battery and perhaps to run mobile phone chargers. Other than that I didn’t really use it all that much. When we bought the Lifestyle camper, we had more power requirements that put a lot of demand on its batteries. We purchased a new generator capable of powering a proper 15 amp battery charger. That generator was a Black Ridge BRG-800. I got it on special from Super Cheap Auto for around $400. That was pretty good back then. When we upgraded to a caravan, the Black Ridge was not powerful enough to run the air-conditioner, so it was shelved for a new model. It’s this point that I have had a rethink over.

Everyone that buys a generator for their caravan are obsessed with it being able to run their air conditioner when free camping, and many have problems buying one that actually works. The ubiquitous Honda EU-20i, which most caravanners purchase, seems to struggle for many and work for some. Many others will buy a cheap Chinese generator from eBay and again, the sometimes struggle. There are a few reasons for this however I wonder how many RVers have actually asked themselves how often they really thing they will be running a generator while away from 240 volt mains power.

I did give this some thought especially when lugging around 4 generators during the aforementioned test. You see, even at 20kgs, the Honda and others like it, are quite heavy and when you have to carry them over rough ground, like that found at most free camps, it’s a real chore. Then there's the question of where to store these things. You have to have a box big enough for them to fit and you have to be able to easily lift the generator out and put it back again when you’re finished. Its hard work especially in the heat and dust of the outback. Finally there’s the weight of these things and with the focus on getting our caravans under weight restrictions, being able to save 10 or more kilos can make a significant difference.

The Black Ridge running the battery charger in the Roadstar during a winter weekend at Sheepyard Flat.
So, for us, I really cannot see us requiring a generator that can run the air-conditioned. I think we would rather just acclimatise to the conditions. With that in mind, the Black Ridge, weighing only 15kgs, is much easier to store and carry around and it has sufficient capacity to run a 25 amp battery charger. It will suffice for our requirements and that’s why we have brought it out of the garage and its back in the caravan for good.

Safe Travels everyone

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Independent Caravan Safety Weigh-in.

Here RVeeThereYet.com we take towing safety very seriously and we have been working hard to promote awareness of the safe towing message.

Following on from the success of the Caravan Safety Operation in Newmerella, Victoria, back in January, we have been supporting our friends at Everything Caravanning and Camping who are organising and running a series of Weigh-Ins in South Australia and Victoria over the coming months.

These will be run independently from Police and Roads Authorities. No fines will be issued if your vehicle is found to be overweight.

The objective of the weigh ins is to provide drivers with data about their rigs that they can use to ensure they are compliant with the weight restrictions of their vehicles. Drivers will also receive information about towing safety and can seek advice about ways to better manage their loads.

The first of these weigh ins will be held in MT GAMBIER on 8.30am Saturday the 17th of June, at the old Masters complex, Mt Gambier Market Place, 204 Penola Rd, Mt Gambier.

This will be a great opportunity for anyone towing a caravan or any large trailer to check their actual weights and find out if they are actually legal. There will be no charge for attending.

Many RVers are finding out that their rigs are overweight, some by hundreds of kilograms. Apart from being illegal, it is unsafe both for themselves and for other road users. We strongly urge you to take advantage of this free service.

For more information visit Everything Caravanning and Camping Website

Until then, safe travels.

After 30,000 KM – We Still Love the Toyota Landcruiser.

Kylie is without doubt a Landcruiser girl...!
Recently, we were driving home along Victoria’s Goulburn Valley Highway after spending a relaxing weekend with friends in Gough’s Bay, near Lake Eildon. For anyone unfamiliar with this road, it is a fairly typical B grade highway in Victoria, with a single lane in each direction and dotted with occasional overtaking opportunities, tight sweeping bends and varying gradients. During winter, this road is packed with skiers heading up to Mt Buller in their all-wheel drive Subaru’s and Audi’s. It’s the perfect road for a hot hatch. During summer, the snow melts in the mountains to reveal the vast eucalypt forests of the Victorian High Country, the exclusive domain of real 4WDs. These vehicles are the norm along the Goulburn Valley Highway this time of year despite not being so well suited to this type of road.

Not so Olaf, our Toyota Landcruiser 200. It seems to defy the laws of physics as it trundles along occasionally challenging the speed limit, eating up hills like they weren’t there and negotiating corners faster than a 2,800kg of BHP’s finest should be able to. I was really enjoying the drive home, revelling in the Cruiser’s silky smooth twin turbo V8 as it dispatched the miles behind us. Olaf had recently ticked over 30,000km and I started to reflect on just how good this car is and how much better it seems to get as time goes by.

Olaf at Woods Point, Victoria. Luckily we didn't need to fill up here...!
First…a bit of a history lesson. I never liked Landsruisers and their owners annoyed me. I hated the way they seemed to make 4wding look easy. Then there was their smugness when I had to call on one of them to get me out of a bog or other situation where I lacked forward momentum. Their ‘generosity’ was always accompanied with the same mantra; “Why don’t you just buy yourself a Landcruiser?” It was like nails down a chalk-board. The fact of the matter was that I secretly coveted my neighbours’ cruisers but steadfastly refused to succumb to the temtation. I swore I would never buy one.

That was up until February 2015 when we ordered our new caravan. A 3,500kg town house on wheels. Our hand was forced into buying a new 4wd to tow it and our choices were few. On the list was the 200 series Landcruiser and as much as I wanted to continue by love/hate relationship with them, there was no denying it was the car for us. When we went for our test drive, I hoped it would be awful or that Kylie would find it too big for her to drive every day. None of that eventuated and today the prejudice was well and truly put to the past. We love Olaf and for good reason.

First time taking the rig Off Road...! The cruiser did it with ease.
You see, unless you buy an American pick-up truck, there really are few options for a good, solid, full size 4WD towing vehicle and when you take into account the availability of service centres around the country, Toyota is as good as it gets and a long way better than all the alternatives. Nissan had a new Patrol on the market with a big V8 petrol engine which, by all accounts, is an awesome vehicle.  Regardless, having experienced owning a petrol V8 4wd in the past, it would take a lot of convincing to get me to buy another one. The fuel use can be scary.

The Cruiser’s engine is magic and it seems to have loosened up considerably since we first got it. It feels smoother and more willing to rev. At first, I thought Toyota had got the transmission all wrong but now that I’ve driven it and gotten used to it, I reckon Toyota knew exactly what they were doing. You very rarely find yourself in the wrong gear. If you do, all it takes is a slight depression of the loud pedal and it kicks down a cog and rockets on in a satisfying swell of torque.

The Toyota steel bullbar has actually turned out to be pretty good. I reckon its the best looking one for this series.
What continually amazes me is just how economic the Cruiser is. We don’t drive it like we’ve stolen it but we don’t baby it either. This trip, in particular, I drove a little more enthusiastically than I might otherwise and it still returned an average of 11.4l/100ks. Granted this is not as good as some of the other modern 4wds but for a big V8, this is outstanding. It challenges the fuel economy of my old 2.5l Discovery and is way better than our 3.0 Patrol…!

Overtaking on a road like the Goulburn is when you really appreciate the V8. Sink the boot in and the motor responds with a satisfying shove in the kidneys accompanied by a nice soundtrack. It feels unstoppable. Unrelenting. Awesome.

Putting the big van on the back changes the equation somewhat but the Cruiser takes this in its stride. The long travel accelerator requires a decent stomp to get the whole rig moving, but it does get going much better that you might expect. It will cruise all day at the speed limit with the van on the back and, apart from the shorter distances between fuel stops, it’s easy to forget the caravan is there.

We’ve done pretty much all the mods we intend to do for the time being. Dual battery system, UHF radio, drawer system, power outlets in the rear, tire pressure monitoring system, Scanguage, rear view camera and driving lights. The Lovell’s GVM upgrade suspension has proved to be a wise decision. Surprisingly, I reckon the Toyota steel bull bar is the best looking of all the alternatives. Once the warranty has run out we plan to up the performance a bit with a modified exhaust and performance chip. We did the same thing to our Patrol and the results of that were amazing.

Other mods we have planned are a catch can and perhaps a secondary fuel filter.  For now, Olaf is doing the job extremely well. It’s powerful, comfortable, reliable, and reasonably economic to run plus it tows like a dream. You can’t really ask for much more…!

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The Truth about Towing Mirrors

Dedicated towing mirrors like these Clearview mirrors make towing safe and ensure you are compliant with the law.

One of the most common questions asked my novice caravanners is “do I need towing mirrors?” If this question is placed on a caravanning forum or Facebook group, the ensuing responses, usually numbering in the hundreds, would confuse anyone posing this question. Most responders would say the answer is yes but a staggering number also argue the opposite and they cite many publications as evidence supporting their claims. The truth is often obscured by these comments, leaving the original poster without a definitive answer. In this article, we hope to put the myth to rest and provide you with a definitive answer.

The first thing we need to do is to establish exactly what the relevant laws are and how they apply to each particular situation. This EXCLUDES many of the towing guides that are published by the various state road authorities. These are guides only and are intended to provide advice that can cover a range of towing configurations, including those that do not require the fitting of mirrors.  This is why many of them state that you may be required to fit extension mirrors.  Do not rely on the guides.  They are not the law.

The overarching law that is applicable to this case is the Vehicle Standard (Australian Design Rule 18/03 Instrumentation) 2006. The Australian Design Rules (ADRs) are national standards for vehicle safety, anti-theft and emissions. The ADRs cover issues such as occupant protection, structures, lighting, noise, engine exhaust emissions, braking and a range of miscellaneous items. They are produced and administered by the Federal Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development. They are made under the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 (the Act). The Act enables the Australian Government to establish nationally uniform standards for road vehicles when they are first supplied to the market in Australia. The Act applies to such vehicles whether they are manufactured in Australia or are imported as new or second hand vehicles.

The Act is Legislation that has been made and enacted by The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia.  Put simply, it is the law.

In order to register a vehicle, it must comply with the ADRs. Any modifications, alterations or additions to a vehicle, and attaching a caravan is an addition, has the potential to effect the vehicle’s compliance with the ADRs.  If a vehicle is non compliant with the ADRs, it is essentially unroadworthy.

Now you can, if you feel the need, read all the relevant ADRs but the one that is applicable in this case is Vehicle Standard (Australian Design Rule 14/02 Rear Vision Mirrors) 2006 Amendment 1. It states:  The field of vision must be such that the driver can see at least a 4 m wide, flat, horizontal portion of the road, which is bounded by a plane parallel to the median longitudinal vertical plane and passing through the outermost point of the vehicle on the driver’s side of the vehicle and extends from 20 m behind the driver’s ocular points to the horizon. In addition, the road must be visible to the driver over a width of 1 m, which is bounded by a plane parallel to the median longitudinal vertical plane and passing through the outermost point of the vehicle starting from a point 4 m behind the vertical plane passing through the driver’s ocular points.

That may sound like a lot of legal mumbo jumbo, and it is, but the diagram below explains what this means:

The field of vision required from side rear view mirrors.
So assuming that your chosen tow vehicle complies with the ADRs, it is your responsibility to maintain that compliance. When you hitch up a caravan, boat or other trailer to your tow vehicle, you potentially block your vision of the area as specified above. If the trailer is no wider than your tow vehicle, then it is likely that your standard mirrors will be sufficient, but if the trailer is wider, and pretty much all caravans are 2.5m wide, then you will need to fit extension mirrors. The following diagram gives a visual representation of what that means:

 

The area in green represents the area of vision that you must maintain. A simple test would be to attached your trailer to your tow vehicle and stand directly behind each of the rearmost corners at a distance of about 20m from your side rear view mirrors. If you can see each mirror in its entirety, then you are likely to be compliant. If the mirrors are partially obscured or completely hidden behind the trailer, then you must install extension mirrors.

Some people will argue that they have a camera fitted on the back of their vans and that it provides the additional area of vision required. This is not the case. As shown above, at best, a camera will show you what is directly behind the trailer and that may actually include some of the green area. What it won’t cover are the areas alongside the trailer and its rear most corners. These are the critical areas that you need to be able to see in order to avoid a collision with another vehicle when changing lanes, merging onto traffic or cornering around a dual lane roundabout.

Now, having been explained all that, many drivers will choose to ignore it and will continue to tow a caravan without fitting extension mirrors to the vehicle. Apart from the obvious safety issues, there is a very high likelihood that they will be pulled over by the Police and issued with an infringement notice. In Victoria, that infringement is 297(2) – fail to have a clear view of the road and traffic, ahead, behind and to each side of the driver RR 297(2) and it will set you back $233. A few drivers who were subjected to safety checks at Newmerella recently were fined for not having mirrors fitted where required. Given the low cost of a good set of towing mirrors, and the likelihood that, in future, there will be an increased focus on towing safety by police, if you avoid just one fine by fitting extension mirrors, they’ll have paid for themselves.

Boat owners are not exempt from the requirement to fit extended towing mirrors, as a couple of drivers found out at Newmerella.

Police Operation at Newmerella 2017

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Why is Gross Combined Mass (GCM) So Important?

When it comes to trying to reduce your rig’s load, finding a place to start can be very confusing. We recommend looking at your tow vehicle’s GCM and working your way from there.

Following on from the police operation at Newmerella, lots of discussions have taken place on social media and various caravanning forums.  That is an excellent outcome.  If we don’t all start talking about the issues raised, we will never be able to solve our weight issues.  One thing is obvious and that is many people do not have any idea what their vehicle’s gross combined mass is or how to calculate it.  Worse still, many drivers are unaware how this can seriously effect the amount of weight you can add to your rig when towing at your maximum towing capacity.  Hopefully the following will give you some idea of the problem.

Toyota Landcruisers manufactured prior to mid 2015, commonly referred to as pre DPF models, are unique in that their compliance plate does not state a GCM. In this case, the GCM is taken to be the Gross Vehicle Mass or GVM plus the maximum rated towing capacity, which in the case of the cruiser is 3500kgs. The standard cruiser will therefore have a GCM of 6,850kgs. In our case, we have had a GCM upgrade. This adds confusion to the issue but from what I’ve been told by a former inspector from Vic Roads, the same rule applies and the new GCM for our vehicle is 7,300kgs.

GCM or Gross Combined Mass is probably the biggest issue facing caravanners at the moment especially those who drive one of the later model dual cab utes. Every vehicle that comes into this country will have a GCM figure on its compliance plate. The only exception I am aware of if the 200 series Toyota Landcruiser (pre DPF models). That particular vehicle’s GCM is taken to be GVM (or gross vehicle mass) plus maximum towing capacity.

To get an idea of the problem, we need to look at some practical examples. The table below shows what happens when you load up the 10 of the most popular tow vehicles their maximum towing capacity.

Remember these are all weights of tow vehicles with no accessories fitted.  As you can see the Mazda BT-50 and Ford Ranger have less that 400kgs remaining cargo capacity before they exceed their GCM. Given the popularity of these two vehicles and the likelihood they will be towing up around these weights, knowing your all up weight compared to the tow vehicle’s rated GCM becomes extremely critical. Depending on how much stuff you have loaded in the tub of the ute, the van may not even be at max weight and you could still be over.

This is the display at the Broadford Weighbridge. It shows the load on both axels of the Landcruiser and the total weight on the caravan’s axels. The three figures combine to give the total weight of the rig in the bottom right. This is the figure you want to be below your tow vehicle’s GCM. Get this right and you’re well on the way to ensuring you’re legal on the road.

If you have any options fitted to the tow vehicle, your remaining load will be reduced even further.  In fact, if you consider that the average steel bulbar weighs around 40kg, a tow hitch with gooseneck and weight distribution bars will weigh another 50kg, a car fridge full of food might weigh another 20kgs, by the time you’ve added two adults at 90kgs each, you’ve got very little remaining capacity to play with.

This is why it is so important to take your rig down to a weighbridge and have it checked.  Even if you can just do a drive on and drive off and obtain your rigs total weight, you will know where you stand in relation to your GCM.  Its a great place to start on the road to ensuring you are not overweight.

Safe travels.

Newmerella – A Turning Point in Towing Safety

Drivers being directed into the inspection area.

On the 4th and 5th of January, 2017, a police officer from the small town of Orbost in Victoria fired a massive salvo across the bow of the caravanning, camper and boating communities. With the help of a small team from Vic Roads, Victoria Police and a group of media and industry representatives, Acting Sergeant Graeme Shenton ran a standard roadside police stop during “Operation Roadwise”, a Victorian state-wide blitz over the Christmas holiday period. What made this unique was that he added the capacity to weigh caravans and other trailers by utilising Vic Roads personnel and portable roadside scales. Up until this day, this sort of operation, where caravanners were subjected to weight safety checks, was a myth of epic proportions. Graeme’s salvo may have crossed the bows of the general towing communities, but it scored a direct hit on the myth, making the possibility of being subjected to weight safety checks a reality for RVers across the country.

Officers from Vic Roads were on hand to assist with the inspections

The event was widely publicised on social media. The details of the operation reached literally hundreds of thousands of people across Australia in a matter of weeks. The general reaction was overwhelmingly positive with the vast majority of posts on social media pretty much saying the same thing. There should be more of it. More importantly, those same people who were praising the operation were more than likely starting to question their own compliance with the law regarding their individual rigs. I know Kylie and I were. It prompted us to take our caravan up to a weighbridge and check out our weights. Like the many who were weighed at Newmerella, we were quite surprised by the results.

To put this into perspective, you have to look at the results from the Newmerella operation itself:

• 71 caravans were weighed across 2 days.
• 2 drivers knew all their ratings.
• Most had an idea of what their maximum allowable weight was (ATM) but were confused about how to manage weights.
• 3 knew what they actually weighed.
• 41 were overweight in one or more ratings (ATM, GTM, Ball weight).
• 5 were overweight by more than 20%.
• The majority of those spoken with were surprised at how heavy they were and had under estimated their actual weight.

It is worth noting that due to the time constraints of the day, no tow vehicles were weighed, however it is well known that many of the popular dual cab tow vehicles have some issues with GVM and GCM. Several were noted on the day with advise given to some who were obviously pushing their limits. If these had been weighed, then the percentage of overweight vehicles would likely have been much larger.

The owners of many dual cab utes appeared to push the limits of their vehicles capacity

In many respects these figures were entirely expected but when you see them written down like that and understand they have come from a factual source, it is very confronting. Recognising that the sample from the weekend is not huge, if we were to apply a simple extrapolation of those figures to the wider RV community of over 600,000 registered vehicles across Australia, only 25,000 will actually know what they weigh. More troubling, out of the remaining 575,000 drivers who have little to no idea about what they weigh, nearly 350,000 are likely overweight in at least one category. Worse is that around 42,000 are, in all likelihood, overweight by more than 20%. Remember that is just RV’s. Consider drivers towing boats and other heavy loads and you can start to appreciate the magnitude of the problem.

Now there will be those out there who do not agree that this is a significant issue. In fact, many accuse law enforcement agencies conducting similar operations as nothing more than revenue raising. I saw one particular comment on social media where it was stated that the police should be patrolling caravan parks and camp sites to counter thieves and stop wasting time targeting a minority. To me, this shows that many people have absolutely no idea about the way law enforcement works and how agencies like Victoria Police have to spread their resources across many areas in order to meet public law enforcement expectations.

Individual scales were placed under each wheel and all weights were added together to get a total figure

I have actually known of Graeme for about 4 years, but only met him in person very recently. Over the Christmas period, Kylie and I were holidaying in Bemm River, about 70ks from Orbost, and Graeme turned up at our caravan site at about 10.30pm on New Year’s eve, just to say gday. He had been on general patrol with his offsider checking caravan parks and camp sites in the area to ensure the safety of campers during festive celebrations. He is a fairly typical country cop. Extremely friendly. Loves a chat but you also get a sense that if the situation called for it, he would be a force to be reckoned with, as his towering frame would suggest.

But Graeme has another side to his life. He is a fellow caravanner and he, like many of us, is passionate about the lifestyle. He is quite active on many forums and Facebook groups, although he keeps his identity on Facebook, well…let’s just say low profile. He is very knowledgeable about the subject having gained a lot of experience from his own travels as well as from his police duties in Orbost. You see, Orbost sits right at the critical point between the major summer holiday destinations of Lakes Entrance in Victoria and the southern NSW coast along the busy and treacherous Princes Highway. Motor vehicle crashes involving caravans and boats are, unfortunately, a normal part of life in this area and Graeme has seen his fair share. In fact, the day we were heading up to Bemm River, there was a rollover involving a large caravan towed by a 4WD that Graeme attended. All were safe but it could so easily have been another tragic start to the holiday period for one family.

A small number of motorhomes were put on the scales as well

This puts Graeme right in the middle of the debate. He has a unique perspective where he can actually see the situation from both sides. It was this insight that gave Graeme the wisdom to run the operation, not as an enforcement exercise, but more as an education with the aim to raise awareness of the safety issues with drivers. Judging by the social media responses, he definitely achieved that. Thousands of RVers around the country took notice of what went on and have started to question their own status.

Evidence of this can be seen in the reaction on social media to posts, one by myself and the other by Mr Matt Sutton, who manages the very popular Caravanning and Camping Facebook group with in excess of 120,000 members. The posts showed ourselves weighing our rigs at public weighbridges. At last count, both posts had been viewed in excess of 270,000 times. Another subsequent post showing a link to our website where people can download a list of public weighbridges in each state received over 3,000 hits in 2 days.

A large number of boats were weighed as the area is popular with the fishing community

I was present at the Newmerella operation and watched how the weight checks were conducted and how Graeme and his team interacted with drivers during the checks. They were patient, methodical, friendly, and willing to discuss the issues in a helpful and constructive manner. Others present included representatives from the Australian Caravanning Club who were also on hand to talk to drivers and assist with the overall goal of education. It was very impressive. Drivers were given advice on how to reduce weight and the effects of weight distribution on stability. All drivers were given printed information detailing a step by step process to assist them to establish their empty and loaded weights and how to use a weighbridge. All drivers were spoken to in regards to fatigue and taking rest stops. A TAC handout was given to drivers describing the effects of fatigue. I spoke to many drivers as well and everyone I spoke to said they were pleased with the approach and valued the advice given to them.

One area of concern that was addressed in a sterner manner was the lack of towing mirrors fitted to a number of vehicles. Many drivers who pulled up without towing mirrors defended their lack of compliance but found themselves loosing that argument very quickly. This is a subject for another day but one worth keeping in mind.

The outcomes from this operation are many but some stand out, in particular in relation to the overall desire of caravanners to become more knowledge about the safety aspect of their activity. In this respect, it is now up to the authorities, the media and industry associations to start to develop and publicise this information on a broader scale.

Representatives from the Australian Caravan Club were on hand to lend assistance and advice to drivers

There is another outcome from Newmerella that I believe needs even greater promotion and follow up, and it relates to the manufacturing sector of the RV industry. The issues surrounding the accuracy (or lack thereof) of compliance plates on new caravans and campers are well known and have recently received a lot of main stream media attention through the activities of Ms Tracey Leigh and her Lemon Caravans and RVs facebook group. Others like Phil Sanchez of the Shonky Caravan Builders/Dealers facebook group have also been challenging the industry by publically naming and shaming builders and dealers who are allegedly involved in some decidedly dodgy practices. Industry experts like Mr Colin Young from the Caravan Council of Australia have also been extremely vocal in their condemnation of the industry and its severe lack of regulation. Newmerella should be a signal to the RV manufacturing industry that law enforcement agencies are now starting to look very carefully at the issue and realise that it will be only a matter of time before they become the focus of investigations.

Everyone involved in the RV lifestyle, from beginning to the end, has now been put on notice that the authorities are aware of the situation and are now prepared to do something about it.

So what happens now?

Well, that will depend on many things, not least will be the value placed on further activities of this nature by the authorities involved on the day. I know the recommendation in the follow up of Newmerella include conducting more weighing operations around the state of Victoria and to continue along the path of focusing on education before enforcement…for now. A closer examination of dual cab utes towing big loads is something that is being considered.

At times, there was a bit of a wait to be checked

However, for Newmerella to be truly successful will require more than just further police operations. Those involved in the RV media and its representative bodies need to stand up and show their support for greater awareness, better adherence to the law and a genuine effort to further educate and prepare RVers of all types to ensure they are compliant with regulations and not overweight.

More importantly we need the RV manufacturing and retail industry to get their heads out of the sand and take responsibility for their part in the issue.

Mr Gary Moreland, who writes for Caravan and Motorhome magazine, who was also present at Newmerella, said something on the day that resonated with me. He described how the trucking industry introduced a chain of responsibility when it came to safety. In essence it means that everyone in the chain from industry regulators, RV Manufacturers, dealer companies and the drivers share varying degrees of responsibility for safety and, likewise, share the accountability when safety is compromised.

A large percentage of camper trailers were overweight

Gary believes the RV industry in this country needs to adopt a similar approach. Rather than working in isolated silos, everyone needs to take ownership of their part in the problem and work together to find solutions. As is the case of a regular motor vehicle, the compliance plate on an RV, be it a caravan, a camper trailer, a boat or a motorhome, is a legal document and it should be treated as one and enforced as one.

Graeme’s operation at Newmerella is an enormous step forward in the path to safer RV motoring and will likely have already saved lives. But for this to be truly successful requires others in the industry, including those who are active on social media, to carry the momentum forward, but they must work together in order to achieve this common goal. As for the rest of us, the average motorist who just happens to tow a caravan, a camper or a large boat, we need to step up and take some responsibility for our own actions. We will not be able to plead innocence for ever or go on blaming the manufacturer of our RV for our situation.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse and right at this moment, the onus is on us to comply with the law.

I urge everyone who reads this to get your rig down to a weighbridge and get your weights checked. Even if you spend the effort to ensure you have not exceeded your tow vehicle’s gross combined mass (GCM), you will have achieved something and taken one big step forward towards ensuring your own safety and that of others on the road around you.

Safe travels

Let's hope this this becomes a common sight at a weighbridge near you...!

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Weighbridges in Australia to download.

Putting Olaf and Sven on the public weighbridge in Broadford, on the Hume Highway, Victoria. This is open 24hrs a day and is fully automated with a large digital display. Very convenient and free of charge.
Following on from the Police operation in Newmerella where caravans, campers and boat trailers were weighed and drivers advised of their result against their vehicle's rating, there has been a flurry of activity on the various Facebook groups and caravanning forums with many drivers wanting to know where to go and get their rigs weighed.

Well, thanks to our friends at Victoria Police and Vic Roads, we have a list of all available public weighbridges in Australia. So if all the talk of police weighing operations has got you a bit concerned about your rig's weight, now you can find the public weighbridge closest to you.

You can view the list or download it for yourself using the links below.  There's a couple of other links may be of interest as well.

Safe Travels

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Police Caravan Weight Safety Checks at Newmerella Victoria

Aerial view of the rest stop in Newmerella where the operation was conducted showing a number of trailers lined up ready for inspection.

Here’s a very brief update on the Police Operation at Newmerella where caravan, campers and other larger trailers were checked for compliance with weight restrictions and other general requirements.

Victoria Police worked together with Vic Roads and the Sheriff’s department to conduct a major road safety operation that included blood alcohol checks, licence and registration checks, outstanding fines or registration payments and, in particular, safety checks of larger trailers including caravans, camper trailers and boat trailers.  This was conducted on the 4th and 5th January, 2017, at the rest stop in Newmerella Victoria on the busy Princess Highway.

With regards to caravan and trailer checks component of the operation, it was largely an education and safety awareness exercise. No one was fined for being overweight. I did see one defect notice issued to a driver who’s boat trailer had incorrectly rated tyres for the weight being carried.

Officers from Vic Police and Vic Roads with their checklists ready to begin the safety check of this caravan. The scales can be seen on the side of the road ready to use.
There were fines issued for drivers who did not have towing mirrors fitted where required.
Here you can see how the scales were used to measure the load on each wheel. The total weight was derived from the sum of all individual readings from each wheel.

A full report will be issued by the police on the results of the operation but I can tell you that overall most trailers were either right on their maximum weight or were overloaded. Some vehicles were also overloaded in terms of their tow ball load and rear axel loadings. Interestingly, many camper trailers were overloaded and this was a bit of a surprise to those of us observing proceedings.

Most drivers were appreciative of the information and guidance provided with many not being aware of the critical state of their rigs. A few were not entirely pleased especially if they had recieved assurances from the manufacturer of ther caravan of its weight carrying capabilities.

A number of drivers came to Newmerella specifically to have their rigs checked as did this couple with their new Elite caravan.

The day was observed by representatives from the Australian Caravan Club Ltd, Everything Caravan and Camping Facebook Group, the Caravanners’ Forum and other organisations. All were very impressed with the operation and how it was conducted. It was agreed that further promotion of the operation and its associated safety message must continue and all agreed to collaborate on achieving this outcome.

From my perspective, it was an extremely worthwhile exercise and it was a privilege to be there to watch the dedicated members of Vic Police and Vic Roads go about their work in a professional and helpful manner. I spoke to a number of drivers who had been tested and they were all appreciative of the advice and assistance offered. Many were grateful for having the opportunity to get their rigs checked.

Surprisingly, there were a large number of overweight camper trailers. Many owners not aware of their weight restrictions and limited cargo capacity.

Of particular note was the number of drivers who had heard about the operation on social media prior to the event and came down specifically to get their rigs checked. This, to me, is an amazing outcome that just goes to show that attitudes are changing and that people are genuinely wanting to ensure their rigs are legal.

This was the first real, widely publicised, safety operation specifically aimed at caravans, boats and all large trailers. The social media campaign of this operation had, to this point, reached well over 250,000 people who are members of the RV and boating communities. It is the start of a whole new approach that could have far reaching implications, not just for folks like ourselves, but for the manufacturers, law eforcement in other states, industry regulators, and so on. This is great momentum for continued improvements in towing safety.

I’ll be publishing a more detailed report later.  Until then, safe travels…!