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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
There were fines issued for drivers who did not have towing mirrors fitted where required.
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.
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.
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…!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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...!
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
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.
You hear all the time about how people buy an off road caravan and rarely, if ever, use it for its intended purpose. I would say that is true for a great many owners of off road caravans. Some of us actually do want to take our vans into the terrain they were designed. It sounds easy enough, just take that track to your favourite campsite and live the dream. Unfortunately, the reality is not as simple as it may seem and even a modest 4WD track can become extremely challenging with a 3t caravan in tow.
I have been towing camper trailers all over the country for around 20 years and I have done so in some very extreme off road conditions. Cape York, the Kimberley region, even some of the goat tracks around the local camps in Victoria. Some have been difficult especially with a camper trailer in tow. Others have not caused me to raise a sweat. Overall though, nothing has really given me serious cause for concern. I thought I had off road towing down to a fine art.
Then, last weekend, we took the Safari Tamer to a bush camp in Bonnie Doon in, Victoria, near Lake Eildon. Access to this bush camp was down a narrow track, about 2kms in length. It was a little rutted and, under normal circumstances, it would not have presented a challenge. But there had been a fair amount of rain in the area prior to our visit and the track was pretty muddy and slippery when we arrived. Still, nothing I wouldn’t have thought would have been difficult at all. But put a huge 3.5t caravan on the back of the Crusier and it completely changed the situation. We made it to the campsite with no issues in the end but the experience has taught us some very valuable lessons that we will need to consider for our future off road caravanning adventures.
First off is the sheer size of the whole rig. Lengthwise we would be approximately 12m long so that makes negotiating tight corners very challenging and when the track has even slightly deep ruts, it can be difficult to get a sufficiently wide enough turn to avoid the caravan scraping some trees on the side of the track. The van is also very tall. Low hanging branches suddenly become an major issue. Having a spotter to ensure you have sufficient clearance is vital in these situations. The van is also very wide. There were a couple of gates we had to pass through along this track where there were mere centimetres clearance either side.
Having a competent tow vehicle with strong 4WD capabilities is also vital in these off road situations. I know that sounds obvious but when you consider that we triggered the Cruiser’s traction control in some places, you can begin to understand that a less capable vehicle, although completely competent in normal conditions, may very well have struggled. To be fair, Olaf was still wearing highway terrain tyres which were always going to be challenged in really wet and muddy conditions.
When we arrived at the campsite, we were confronted with a whole set of other issues. We had to find a suitably sized, flat camp site that the van could fit onto that still had sufficient clearance to get out of at the end of the trip. With trees all around, the room for manoeuvring was extremely tight. At one time I came very close to damaging the awning on a tree trunk. It took a couple of goes but we managed to get out unscathed.
I guess the point of all this is that while we had a great time with our first serious off road caravanning experience, it certainly has taught us some valuable lessons. If you’re planning on taking your off road caravan into the kind of terrain it was designed to go, you really need to be ready for the challenges that you’ll be presented with. Careful planning is required as well as a greater sense of awareness and anticipation. You cannot just blindly drive down a track and expect you’ll find a suitable spot to camp and then be able to get out when it’s time to go home.