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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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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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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Police Operation on Caravan Safety

Rumours have started to circulate that Vic Police will be running a blitz targeting caravanners with even the popular Caravan and Motorhome On Tour magazine running an article on the subject. Well, while nothing can be confirmed, we have been told there is definitely substance to the rumour.

Photo from the Police/Vic Roads operation in May 2016
Last May you will recall there was a specific operation in Cann River, Victoria that targeted (amongst others) caravanners where rigs were weighed on set of portable scales. The pictures we were able to obtain and share (with appropriate permission) showed in no uncertain detail what was happening, busting a national rumour that had persisted for many years.

Well, the word I have from the same source is that a similar operation is in the planning but, this time, it is part of an overall strategy to 'educate travellers about caravan and tow vehicle weights, general safety around towing and how to manage fatigue on long journeys'.

During holiday periods, police have found 'there is an increase in the number of motorists towing caravans and boat trailers, with many being first time towers' or lacking experience towing long heavy loads. Recent media stories and videos of incidents showing caravan rollovers has also raised police concerns.

Some people will need more 'educating' than others...!
Police are also very aware that the public perception can be that these operations are just an exercise in revenue raising. I know this is not the case as the costs associated with such an exercise, especially over the holiday period, would greatly surpass the total of any fines issued. So this time there is a real focus on the need to 'educate and generate discussion around towing safety and road safety in general'.

We have maintained that caravanners who do the right thing have nothing to fear from being asked to pull in for an inspection and we would encourage travellers to take advantage of the opportunity to find out whether or not they are in fact legal. Safety should be everyone’s number one priority on the roads especially when towing big loads.

Stay tuned for more details.

Police Operation. Cann River. May 2016

Original Article Caravan and Motorhome on Tour

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Christmas Holiday To-Do List

It’s hard to believe that another year has gone by and we are fast approaching the holiday season. Like many others, we’ve planned to take the van away for a quick trip to the coast and our thoughts have turned to getting the van and car ready for the trip. It has reminded me that we have quite a few handy hints ant tips on this site that are extremely useful at this time of year. 

I thought it would be a good idea to put them all together in one post so that they can be used as a sort of To-Do list before you head off. 

We hope you find this useful. Safe travels.

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Avoid Buying a Lemon Caravan..!

The internet is littered with stories of people who have bought a new caravan or camper that is so riddled with faults, that their dream RV is best described as an utter nightmare.  Its very sad reading these stories and they do make you wonder why there is not more regulation in the RV industry in this country.  I have often wondered what prospective buyers could look out for when shopping around for a new caravan or camper that may help them spot a potential lemon.

You can only imagine what has led this owner to physically label their caravan a lemon.
There are some very basic things you can do as part of your research.  Searching internet forums, product review sites and social media groups is one way to educate yourself about what brands have good reputations and what brands don’t. Be careful about believing everything you read.  Some people will sing the praises of their purchase all day despite having experienced many issues while others will rant and rave about the smallest problems that could have been resolved with a little diplomacy.  What will become clear is that some brands are over represented and we would advise you to steer clear of them.

Strong underpinnings are key to a caravan's longevity especially in Australia. Vans made for the European or US markets may not necessarily stand up to these conditions over the longer term unless they have been specifically modified. Water stains on plywood flooring as well as exposed plumbing/wiring are further concerns in this case.
In addition to the internet, you can get a pretty good idea about a caravan manufacturer’s quality by having a real close look at what they have on display in their showrooms and sales yards.

We live in an area that could literally be described as Australia's Caravan Central. The northern suburbs of Melbourne, especially around the Campbelfield area, are home to a majority of the Australian caravan manufacturers and, given their close proximity to where we live, it is all too convenient for us to waste an hour or two checking out the latest vans on display. On occasion, friends may ask us to checkout a particular van they may be interested in which we are more than happy to do. It gives us a unique insight into the current state of caravan manufacturing in the area and we get to see the good, the bad and the ugly of what’s on offer.

What astounds me is that, with the level of technology available to manufacturers today, some really don’t seem to have kept pace with customer demands and continue to produce what I would regard as a very average product. What’s more, their display vans seem to showcase a general lack of attention to detail, poor design and shoddy workmanship.  If prospective customers could see past all the glitter and fancy interiors and start to look for the telltale signs of poor workmanship, they may be able to save themselves a world of heartache after parting with their hard earned cash.

With this in mind, I went around to a couple of caravan retailers in the area and had a look at what was on offer.  Here’s is a selection of photos that I took when visiting the ‘showrooms’ of three quite popular brands of caravans.  What I found was really shocking.  Some of the issues I saw would be classes as simple design faults that could have been rectified with a little more thought. Others issues, like those shown below, were clearly poor quality workmanship.  They are real world examples of the sort of things that prospective buyers should be looking out for when shopping around for a new caravan.

Poorly Designed Storage

img_3740
Tunnel boots should be capable of carrying all your dirty outdoor gear.
While the tunnel boot in this particular van is quite large, its use is somewhat restricted in that it is clearly not water resistant or fully sealed. Further there are electrical components and exposed wiring that could be damaged by the movement of stored items like the rafters in this example. Personally I like to see a tunnel boot that is fully sealed and lined with galvanised steel sheeting and no electrical fittings except perhaps some lighting. It is much more practical for this type of storage given the sort of stuff that will be packed in here.  It would also help prevent moisture getting into the caravan's frame.

 Sloppy Application of Sealant

img_4897
Gone a bit heavy with the silicon sealant.
There are some things that just look terrible on a brand new van and this picture of overuse of silicon sealant on the roof join is a prime example. Apart from looking absolutely horrible, it just shows a lack of care and attention to detail during the manufacturing process. Not a good look on a showroom floor. However, with water leaks being the biggest issue with new caravans these days, you definitely want the manufacturer to take extreme care in this part of the build process. In this case, you would have to question whether or not the sealant had been properly applied throughout the entire build of this particular van.

Poor Quality Control

img_4890
Please don't open the drawers...!
I found this drawer half fallen off its rails and no amount of adjustment would make it fit back properly. I tried to fix it but this is as good as I could get it without dismantling it completely. Granted this is easily fixed but for it to be like this on the showroom floor is pretty ordinary. Again, you would have to question the integrity and strength of all the internal cabinetry.

Poor Dust/Water Sealing

img_4889
Dust in the van is a badge of honor.
The pipes and hoses in this photo are routed inside one of the cabinets and down through the floor of the van. With no sealing around them, daylight is clearly visible through the holes. This means any dust or water thrown up while driving can easily get inside the van.  If you were driving on a dirt road, the whole inside of the van would be covered in the dust that comes through holes like this. The screw left lying in one of the holes near the water pipe is more than a bit of a concern....! When looking around at display vans, have a good look inside the cupboards and check to see the holes for routing of plumbing have been properly sealed around the pipes themselves.

Poor Weather Sealing

img_4888
Nice gap in the edging.
This door provides access to the front tunnel boot of this particular van. Apart from the latch not being adjusted to ensure the door shuts tightly (there was about 1.5cm of free play in it) there’s a nice crack at the corner where the metal trim meets that could easily result in water and dust ingress into the boot area. A little extra care during the assembly process would have avoided this.

Weak Door Latches

img_4885
Is plastic the best choice for this latch?
This outside entertainment box looks pretty good however the door latch is made from fairly light plastic. When I went to open it, it felt like the latch would easily break if I wasn’t gentle with it. Ok....it’s a small point and probably more a design issue, but if it did break it would be a fairly expensive fix as the whole cabinet would need replacing.

Slap-Stick Workmanship

img_4896
This is a display van isn't it...?
The padding above the door to this van had fallen off completely and it's little wonder why. It was held on with just 2 strips of cheap double sided tape and a few blobs of silicon sealant which is not a suitable adhesive for this purpose. As difficult as it is to believe, I can assure you this photo was taken inside a display van that was on a showroom floor.  I suppose you could say that the manufacturer was not trying to attempt to hide their poor workmanship from prospective buyers...!

Painted Chassis

img_4891
And the rust is included free of charge...!
This photo is a clear example of why I do not like a painted steel chassis. This was a brand new van and, already, rust has started to appear in several spots. The paint on this van looked to be nothing more than cheap undercoat. Its also a really shoddy paint job with chips and scratches everywhere.  What really concerns me is it looks like the whole chassis was first assembled and then painted as evidenced by the paint on the brake cable, painted nuts and bolts and the flaking paint on the safety chains.  Rust is also starting to appear in some of the welds.  The big danger with this is that there a good chance there's is no paint on the plate where the tow hitch is bolted onto.  Moisture gets trapped in between the plate and the hitch and eventually rust will weaken the metal leading to failure of the hitch itself.

Poor quality fixtures

img_4884
You wont need that table.
The folding table in the dinette of this van was very poorly made. The hinges were very loose and, when stored in the travel position, the whole structure moved about 2cms in any direction. Even over good roads, this would eventually shake itself apart.  The storage shelves underneath are also pretty useless.  You certainly couldn't store anything there while travelling on the road.

Now I purposely haven't mentioned the brands of caravan in this post.  I wouldn't want to start war of the brands on this site.  And, really, that isn't the point of this article.  What we want to do is provide potential buyers of new caravans with an idea of what to look out for regardless of which brand or brands they may favor.

Spotting a potential lemon caravan can be very difficult as the faults can often be hidden from plain sight.  While that may not be the case in these vans, it is still too easy to be distracted by all the bright lights, shiny wheels and flashy features. Buyers need to be able to look beyond a the bling and have a good look at how the van was put together.

Hopefully by seeing the faults in these pictures, potential buyers will begin to understand the sort of things to look out for and, in the process, get a better idea of what makes a quality RV.  Armed with this knowledge, buyers can increase their chances of avoiding buying a very expensive lemon.

Safe Travels

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Essential Caravan Features

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Trailer Sway Control.

Lately it seems every week there is a new dash-cam video of a caravan coming to grief on the road, usually as a result of an uncontrollable sway or fish-tail incident. These videos get plastered all over social media and they attract hundreds of comments usually questioning the skill of the driver involved or the recklessness of their actions. Some question the load distribution of the rig and whether or not the towing vehicle was up to the task. Personally I do not like these sort of posts mainly because they comments they attract are often misinformed and opinionated and come from people who have absolutely no knowledge of the facts leading up to the incident. For me it’s very easy to be an armchair expert with little regard to the effect those comments may have on the actual individuals involved.

It gets worse. A well-known current affairs program notorious for their lack of journalistic excellence, jumped onto the same bandwagon when the latest footage emerged on the net. Their comments and those of their experts we’re one thing, but the comments posted on their facebook page really only served to cast caravanners in a bad light. Nothing in the report really offered any guidance for others who might find themselves in a similar situation. It also featured footage from the UK and the US while stating that ‘we see this on our roads all the time’. One clip they showed was of a car and caravan skidding into the path of an oncoming truck. I know for a fact the incident in that instance did not result from any driver error but was due to the presence of oil on the road. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

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If the weather is windy and wet, consider pulling over and waiting for it to clear.

The truth is, there is a variety of opinions about what a driver of a car and trailer should do in the instance the trailer gets the sways. The natural reaction of the driver, especially if they are inexperienced, would be to hit the brakes. That, in my opinion, would be the worst thing to do. Many guides state that you should try to accelerate out of the sway. This, again, is not always possible and I doubt it would work anyway.

Years ago, before I had any real idea about towing and weights and such stuff, I was towing a small box trailer carrying about 12 railway sleepers with a Diahatsu Feroza. Now before you all jump on me for my obvious stupidity, I was less than half my current age at the time and really didn’t know any better.

In any case, the inevitable happened and, while driving up the busy Hume Hwy, as I approached 70kph, almost without any warning the trailer started to sway quite violently. Fortunately I had some knowledge of 4wding at the time and one thing that gets drilled into you is not to panic when the proverbial hits the fan and DON’T slam on the brakes. Instead, I slowly released my foot from the accelerator and steadily slowed down, keeping the steering wheel straight, until the swaying stopped. As quickly as the sway had started, slowing down had an immediate opposite effect and brought the rig back under control.

Fortunately I have never been in a similar situation since then, however, I am absolutely convinced that my actions that day saved my life and that of my passenger, not to mention other motorists around me.

I don’t believe trying to accelerate out of the sway would have worked for 2 reasons.

  1. I couldn’t even if I wanted to, the poor Feroza was struggling with the load as it was.
  2. Even if I could, that would only introduce additional ‘energy’ into an already out of control situation and possibly would have made things worse.

Hitting the brakes would only have served to raise the speed difference between the car and the trailer leading to a worsening of the sway as the trailer tried to overtake the car.

Slowing down gradually by just releasing the accelerator enabled the energy already in the system to dissipate equally from both the car and trailer, taking energy away from the sway and returning the rig to a state of control. If I had trailer brakes operated remotely from the car, activating them would have had the same result, a controlled slowing down and dissipation of the energy in the sway.

So my suggestion is to avoid the situation happening in the first place. This is done by following some simple suggestions:

  1. Ensure both your car and trailer are roadworthy and any servicing is up to date.
  2. Ensure the load is correctly distribution across the whole rig.
  3. Ensure your tire pressures across the rig are set according to the manufacturers’ instructions
  4. Ensure your trailer connections are working especially any electronic braking system
  5. Fit a weight distribution hitch. This will ensure that control of the rig is on the front wheels of the tow vehicle, enhancing stability.
  6. Get your rig weighed to ensure you haven’t exceeded any limits on the tow vehicle or the trailer
  7. Take your rig for a test drive somewhere away from heavy traffic and gradually work up to normal cruising speeds.

You can consider fitting a sway control device such as friction arms or trailer mounted electronic stability control but keep in mind these can induce a false sense of security. You don’t want to be relying on these features. Setting up the rig correctly in the first place is far more important.

Passing large trucks can expose your rig to some pretty strong forces such as the wind turbulence coming from the front of the truck and down along both sides. This turbulence or pressure wave can have a detrimental effect on your rig’s stability as you pass through it. If you have to overtake a truck, give yourself plenty of room to manoeuvre and don’t cut back in front of the truck until you are well past it.  Give the truckie plenty of warning by contacting him/her on UHF Ch.40.

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You don’t want your next big adventure to end up like this.

I would also recommend you don’t exceed 100kph especially when towing a trailer in excess of 2500kgs or if the trailer is at the limits of your tow vehicle’s capabilities.

If you do experience trailer sway:

  1. Remain calm. Do not panic.
  2. Don’t touch the tow vehicles brakes and don’t try to control the sway by steering input.
  3. Keep the steering wheel pointed straight ahead as much as possible.
  4. Gradually release the accelerator and reduce speed until the swaying stops.
  5. If the trailer is fitted with electronic brakes, activate them manually using the override feature.
  6. Once the vehicle has regained stability, slow right down and pull off the road at the first safe opportunity.
  7. Check over the rig for anything that may have contributed to the situation. Tire pressures, load balance, etc.

Something else to keep in mind is that some caravans require a load such as water in their tanks to be completely stable. It can be a sign of poor caravan design but many vans are like this. If you have any doubts, fill the front most water tank and retest your rig to see if the stability has improved. Check with the manufacturer if you have any doubts.

Safe travels

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10 Reasons to Keep a Spare iPhone in Your Caravan

Have you got an old smartphone or two lying around and you’re wondering what to do with them? Well…if you’re like Kylie and I, and you love upgrading to the latest gadgets, you’ve probably got at least one sitting in a drawer in your home. I know I find it very difficult to just get rid of a device that once cost me a lot of money. So I started to think about what use could an old, unused smartphone be to the average caravanner? Well…as it turns out, there’s quite a lot of functions a spare smartphone can be used for especially for RV use and, when compared to purchasing individual hardware for each specific task, you could end up saving yourself a substantial amount of money.

Here we look at just 10 useful apps that we have found that you can install on a spare iPhone or similar device that will be useful for caravanning and camper travel.

maxresdefault1. GPS Tracking Device. Pretty much every iPhone and most other brands of smartphones, have a built in GPS function. Normally this is used for mapping and navigation but it is also used as a means to locate a lost or stolen iPhone using the Find my Phone application. This comes standard with iOS and basically allows you to view the location of any other iOS device you own using the internal GPS. Android phones have a similar app. The location is displayed on a map and, from what I have found, it is extremely accurate. By placing an old iPhone in your caravan or camper and having it connected to a constant 12v source, it can act as a GPS locator in the event your RV is stolen. Where ever the caravan goes, the phone will go. Obviously you will need to install a separate SIM card for the phone to work. I found that Vodafone offer a ‘pay as you go’ or prepaid account that has a validity period of 12 months for any credit you put on the card. This means you can put a minimum of $10 on the account and this will last you a year or until you run out of data credit. A dedicated GPS tracking device can cost anywhere between $300 and $1,000 dollars depending on functionality so the savings on this function alone justify keeping a spare phone in your van.
2. Video Surveillance Camera. If you have a look on the App Store, you will find a variety of video surveillance applications that turn a spare mobile phone equipped with a camera into an IP camera that can be accessed remotely from another smartphone. Some apps like Surveillance Pro allow 2 way video and audio communications. If you travel with dogs and, for whatever reason, you need to leave them in your van for a short period of time, you can monitor them and ensure they are OK and not barking. You could also place the phone in a window to keep an eye on your campsite. The uses for this are endless. Installing a similar dedicated IP camera could cost upwards of $150.
logo_big3. Caravan Levelling Device. Another unique feature of the iPhone is the inbuilt position and accelerometer sensors that are used to , among other things, detect the movement and orientation of the phone itself. It allows the screen to rotate between portrait and landscape modes automatically or for applications like the digital spirit level. Now some enterprising people have come up with an app that sends this positional data to another smartphone remotely allowing the spare phone in the van or camper to tell the driver when it is level. The app is called StayLevel. It’s a brilliant system that allows you to park your van in the most level position on a campsite before unhitching it from the tow vehicle. It should avoid one of the most common causes of arguments between couples and prevent you from rolling out of an uneven bed at night…! Again, there are devices that can be purchased for this very purpose that cost upwards of $350.
4. Remote Battery Monitor. Just about every modern caravan or camper has a 12v electrical system of some description and monitoring the health of your batteries is key to ensuring this system delivers constant power to all of your appliances. If, like me, you rely on your 12v power system to power a cpap machine overnight, knowing your batteries are fully charged before nightfall is essential to your health. Your van will likely have an inbuilt monitor of some type but imagine how good it would be if you could have that information at your side all the time? Well now you can with the availability of several devices that connect to a smartphone via Bluetooth and display all sorts of information about the health of your batteries and the rate at which you’re using power. They are not cheap, costing around $300 but the convenience they can offer can be very helpful. You can keep the phone with you outside of the van and at a glance see what state of charge your batteries are at. If they are not getting charged sufficiently, you can move the solar panels into better sunlight or consider other methods of charging. Some apps give you the ability to set alerts to prevent running your batteries too low and causing them damage.
 bmpro-battery-check-feature-image5. Juke Box. If your caravan or camper has an inbuilt stereo system that allows the connection of a smartphone or MP3 player, you can store your favourite music on your spare iPhone and leave it in the van permanently connected to the stereo so you will always have your music with you when you travel.
6. Movies on the go. Take the above one step further and, if you have sufficient memory capacity on your phone, you can also store a selection of your favourite movies that, with the addition of an AV cable, can be connected to your TV. This saves carrying around a heap of DVDs or a separate portable hard drive.
7. Walkie Talkie. How many of us love watching others trying to back their campers and vans into a tight spot and have a giggle at the antics and agreements that inventively ensue. Sadly we do and often we have offered these poor souls the use of our portable UHF radio. I’ve often wondered why people don’t have one of these useful tools for assisting with this task. Well, there is a great feature on all smartphones called push to talk and it allows phones to communicate with each other without using valuable data or phone credit turning your phones into walkie talkies. Just do a search on ‘push to talk’ apps on the Appstore. It could save you $50 or more on a dedicated portable radio.
8. Night Light/Alarm Clock. You can spend hours trolling through all the night light apps on the app store. There are literally hundreds. Some will have sound activation, others will have various functions like a night clock that is sound activated. There are probably more out there with features you may not have ever contemplated. Either way, making use of your spare iPhone as a night light and a bedside alarm clock can be very helpful.
screen568x5689. Children’s entertainment. We don’t have children but on occasion we may have people visit is when were in the caravan and they may bring their kids along. If it’s raining and there is not much for them to do , it may be handy to have a spare iPhone around loaded with a selection of games to keep them entertained without lending them your actual mobile phone. Kids have a habit of destroying things from time to time so if they do break your spare phone, it won’t be such a hardship.
10. Netflix Box. Netflix, if you haven’t heard about it, is an on-demand online TV streaming service that costs a fraction of traditional pay TV subscriptions. You can use the Netflix app on your smartphone to stream TV to a normal television using a device like the Google Chromecast. By installing the Netflix app on your spare phone you will always have a player handy in your RV and it will allow you to use your personal mobile phone for other applications. I wouldn’t recommend using a smartphone for Netflix unless you were at a caravan park with free WiFi access available.

So there you have it. Ten very practical uses for a spare smartphone that you can keep in your caravan or camper that can make life on the road just that little bit easier.

Safe Travels

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Aussie Traveller Rafter DIY Installation.

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Aussie Traveller Rafters add much needed support to the awning, preventing flapping and ensuring water doesn’t pool when it rains.

Today I had a bit of spare time to install a set of Aussie Traveller Awning Rafters. Yes….I did it myself.

I’m reasonably handy with most DIY projects however the prospect of drilling holes into our near new caravan was not a task I was looking forward to. One stuffed up measurement and I could have ended up with a hole or two where they shouldn’t be.

There’s a golden rule in any DIY project; measure twice, drill once. It’s a good mantra to have especially with this install.

img_5560Step 1: Measure out the rafter positions. Depending on the number of rafters you need to install, you need to measure out where they will go. I was installing 2 rafters so I needed two equal distant spaces. I measured from the edge of the awning material itself as this correlates back to the roller perfectly ensuring both ends line up.

img_5559Step 2: Screw in the bracket. The instructions say that you need to ensure the bracket is about 2.5cm lower than the awning itself. I found that this was not so critical and I just screwed my brackets into the metal strip that secures the awning itself. I figured the panel behind it had already been drilled into so it was a safe bet that I could drill in line with the rivets without hitting any wires. If you’re not sure, drill your holes very slowly so as to control the drill when it reaches the inside edge of the panel. The kit came with wood screws but given I was screwing into metal, I used my own self drilling sheet metal screws. I drilled pilot holes first just to be sure.

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Make sure the drill bit is just big enough for the rafter to fit into. You want a snug fit as any movement will expand the hole and risk it rattling in the wind.

Step 3: Drill the holes in the roller. Before drilling the holes, install the rafter at the van wall end and check to see the place you’ve market for the hole in the roller lines up. Again, the instructions show the holes being drilled above the grove where the shade slips in. This was not going to work for us so I just ensured the awning was completely unrolled and drilled the hole in the same approximate position.

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I could have probably mounted the bracket a bit higher but this is fine. There’s plenty of metal in there for the screws to get a good bite and a secure fitting.
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The roller end of the awning.

That’s it. Job done. It really is a simple install anyone can do. We’re expecting some rain and wind tonight so it will be interesting to see how it holds up. So far it feels very solid and with the assistance of ratchet strap tie downs, I expect it will survive pretty severe conditions.

Safe travels

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Why I Love Caravan Parks…!

I just know there are going to be a great many caravaners and campers out there who are going to be mortified by this, but I have to admit it, I really do love Caravan Parks. To pinch a line from Forest Gump, they are just like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.

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The caravan park at Cresent Head NSW is in an ideal location but like many parks, it can be a bit cramped at times.

Take the park we are at right know. It’s at a place called Cresent Head, NSW. It is right on banks of an estuary and beach and is an ideal location to get away from the city and enjoy a seaside getaway. It’s also a fairly big park and the layout ensures you have only just enough space for yourself. That said, some sites are quite cosy so you will have little choice but to say hi to your neighbors. I don’t really mind this as more often than not, fellow RVers tend to be kindred spirits and we generally really like the people we meet.  There are times when that’s not the case but you make the best of the situation. Right now, our current neighbors are lovely and we have shared a couple of happy hours and afternoon teas with them. We had a very windy night a couple of nights ago and I made sure they were OK in their roof top tent. They were appreciative of my concern. I really get a lot out of this sharing and caring attitude that seems to exist in caravan parks.

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When this is your view from your site, there’s little to complain about…!

Caravan parks are also a great opportunity for a sticky-beak at a plethora of other caravans and RVs of every size, shape and age.  Most RVers are only too happy to show off their rigs and share the modifications they’ve made and the accessories they have had success using. We have learnt so much from talking to other park residents over the years.

Theres so much you can learn just by introducing yourself to others at the caravan park.  Where to go to get a good meal, where the fish are biting, what are to better attractions around the area and, most importantly, where else they have been on their travels that might be included on your next itinerary…!

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The sheer variety of rigs at caravan parks is a great source of information if you’re prepared to go say hi to your neighbors.

Of course, there is always the regular entertainment of watching people packing up and leaving and, more importantly, the new arrivals as they attempt to park their massive rigs into the smallest of spots. Kylie and I just love Witching Hour…!

As I said at the beginning, there’s a lot of travellers out there who don’t like caravan parks. Yes they can be expensive, amenity blocks can vary greatly in quality and cleanliness, park rules can be a bit restrictive and, sometimes they can be occupied by undesirable tennents. But these days there is so much information available online to give you a good idea of what a caravan park is like and, using applications like WikiCamps, you can see what parks are available in a set location, compare prices and even read comments from past tennents. There really is no excuse to not find a great caravan park in any location these days.

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Some parks are just awesome like this one in Halls Gap near the Gramians National Park. Nice big grassy sites, plenty of shady trees, great amenities and wildlife all around.

With the trend in free camping growing exponentially, the days of viable caravan parks may be on the slide and I admit, we are making more of an effort to free camp these days, but I think for convenience and social interaction, caravan parks will always feature on our itineraries in one way or another.

Safe travels

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