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Caravan Clubs - for learning to ropes and enjoying the company of other caravanners
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06/05/2017
 
Helpful resources to assist you with what to look for when purchasing new or second hand
New to the market buyers should first read this worthwhile first of its kind publication The Caravan Buyer's Guide
 
The Used Caravan Checklist on the The Caravan Buyers Guide will assist buyers avoid pitfalls that have caused dreams of travel to be dashed. 
 
Caravan Council for advice on purchasing a caravan
 
The Australian Manufactured Camper Trailer Guild (AMCTG) for advice about purchasing a camper trailer, including articles on what NOT to buy (horror stories about inferior products). 
 
 
Travelling with a disability - what do you need?
 
Helpful resources to assist you with what to look for when purchasing new or second hand
Making it easy - aids for caravanners
 
Making it easy - aids to hitching, levelling, manoeuvring, tyre changing and more

Australia So Much to See

 

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Starting Out  - Hints on what to look for and what to choose to have in your caravan, motor home or camper trailer.

Index
Choosing your rig - what rig will suit your needs?
Motor home, caravan or camper trailer,  or 5th wheeler?

Why are there hundreds of different caravans, motor homes and campers out there? Because we all want something to suit our needs, family size, time on the road, types of roads and places we choose, hip pocket, personal preferences, tow vehicle capacities, style of travelling (eg move every day doing the Big Lap or go to the seaside for annual holidays) - the list goes on and on. Hiring may be an option worth considering for a short holiday.  

 

Caravan, motorhome, tray back slide-on or camper trailer?  Your choice will include how suitable the rig is for where you want to travel, whether there will be room for your needs, your tow vehicle and your budget. 

 

You decide what you want to set these criteria, then go somewhere where your type of travellers will be, look at their rigs and ask questions. Most travellers are pleased to show off their rig, their modifications and add-ons, and tell about their travels. 

 

Consider pre-loved.  Most people don't get what they ultimately want first up. If you buy second hand you don't loose as much as if you buy new.  Any problems will have been sorted out, and you may get useful little additions.

 

If you want an Off Road Caravan, do your research thoroughly.  Caravan manufacturers can produce a beefed up caravan model in their range, put off-road in its name, but if you read the fine print on a number of these, to take on rough, corrugated or stony roads would invalidate the warranty.  Many of our inland roads are just that; miles and miles of corrugations.  Even soon after grading it only takes a week or two of traffic before they are just as bad. 

 

If you get a ‘bitumen road’ model, be prepared to go tenting for a few days or more rather than risk your rig on rough roads.  This however means not being able to take long corrugated through roads such as the Plenty, Tanami, Great Central roads and the Savannah Way.  The Gibb River Road can still be enjoyed by leaving the caravan at Kununurra, Broome or Derby and doing a loop via the Highway after touring through the Gibb River Road.  This also gives the opportunity to visit Purnululu in the Bungle Bungle Range, as caravans are not permitted on the entry track or in the park.  See "Should I take my - - - caravan on the Gibb River Road".

 

Be sure that what you get is within the authorised weight limits for you vehicle, when fully laden and including all of you in the vehicle. It is amazing how quickly weight comes up when packing the van.  Check what payload you can add.  Some caravans have very little allowance for what you can pack without being overloaded.  Best advice is to get the caravan then the tow vehicle to suit.  See all about weights and what the letters such as ATM and GCM mean.

 

What we bought:  One of our priorities was a Queen sized bed.  The caravan we purchased has a yacht style bed (sideways) which gives us heaps more space in our 18' (internal) caravan than an island bed.  We also have a small but adequate combined shower and toilet bathroom; a bathroom being something you don't miss until you've had one, but something you wouldn't want to be without after having travelled with one.  We have four water tanks (one dedicated drinking water with a separate outlet tap), four solar panels and four batteries for complete independence. 

 

Choosing your rig - what rig will suit your needs? 
Motor home, caravan or camper trailer,  or 5th wheeler?

Although the numbers of motor homes seen on the road when travelling are increasing, caravans are still proving the more popular choice for purchasers. 

 

Australia has the highest caravan ownership per capita in the world according to this 2013 report.  Caravan registrations have continued to increase in 2014 and 2015.

 

The majority of hired campers are motor home or camper van types, ie self propelled, and they appear to be a large proportion of motorhomes seen on the roads.

 

There is no conclusive evidence that either motor homes or caravans retain their resale value better.   The choice should be made to suit the needs of the purchaser without undue consideration to resale value. 

 

Australian RV production on track to top 20,000 in 2013 for the fourth successive year.  There were 528,869 RVs registered in 2013.  There were 528,210 caravans and 58,375 campervans registered as at 31 January 2015.

 

Registrations of RVs continue to increase

 

• Combined Campervan and Caravan registrations reached a total of 586,585 at 31 January 2015.
• Comparing campervan and caravan registrations at 31 January 2014 with those at 31 January 2015 shows an increase of 29,741 or 5.34%.
• The total number of campervans registered in Australia at 31 January 2015 was 58,375 compared to 55,757 in 2014 which equates to a 4.7% increase.
• The total number of caravans registered in Australia at 31 January 2015 was 528,210 compared to 501,087 in 2014 which equates to a 5.4% increase.

 

The rising trend has continued in the first quarter of 2016.

 

We share the camp at Nobby with a number of very different motor homes

Motor home or camper van (self propelled)

Pros: No towing (unless towing a small vehicle as often seen with the larger motor homes and converted buses).

 

Depending on design, in many it is possible to climb from cab to living area without leaving the van, which may be useful if it is raining.

 

Very little setting up to do when you stop for the night, or to do before leaving in the morning.

 

Cons: Unless large, no storage space for things like spare fuel, generator, bulky tools.  We saw good custom built ones - lovely, expensive, and to have room for all the needs of a round Australia trip, rather tall and long which would limit where we could go. 

 

A number of motor homes have the bed built up over the cab of the vehicle.  Climbing up to an over cab bed may be easy for the young, but not for nocturnal visits and ageing knees of older travellers. 

 

Unless you tow a small vehicle behind the motor home, which rather negates the benefits of not towing, if you have a breakdown such as broken spring or wheel problem with a motor home you are stuck. If you have a mechanical breakdown you will have nowhere to stay while the motor home is in the workshop being repaired, which may take some days or even weeks in outlying areas.  

 

Driving large motorhomes and converted buses requires a heavy vehicle driver's licence. See more about licence requirements here.

 

In case of a mechanical failure which is not viable to repair, you are up for the cost of replacing the whole rig.

 

Pros: With a caravan or camper trailer, we can leave it behind to tackle city traffic and parking areas.  We can take a 4wd without the van down more tracks, through boggy areas and into out of the way places than a motor home of adequate size for long term touring. We can leave the caravan and camp for a few days in hard to get into places.  We can still pull into the bush to camp, and with the present full sized caravan, there is virtually no setting up to do - stop and our home is ready.  Moving off in the morning is no harder than with a motor home. 

 

If you have a breakdown on a caravan (speaking from experience) you can use the tow vehicle to go and get help or parts, and you can still live in your caravan.   If your tow vehicle needs workshop repairs, you still have your caravan for accommodation. 

 

When not caravanning we have a 4wd 'family car'.  With a motor home, we would still need and additional vehicle at home, so two vehicles to register, insure and maintain.  Registration, insurance and upkeep on a caravan is cheaper than on a second vehicle. 

 

Long term travellers may replace their vehicles, retaining the caravan, at an overall lesser cost than replacing a large motor home. 

 

Cons:  Needs towing skills, particularly for backing.  Hitching and unhitching may not be quick and simple, particularly if you don’t have a partner to assist. 

 

With a caravan, you have more tyres on the road, although with dual wheels on larger motor homes, the number may well be the same.  However caravan or camper trailer tyres may not need replacing as often as those used on a vehicle. 

 

Alternatively a camper trailer can be taken to tighter places than a caravan, but has limitations for setting up and folding down, particularly in wet or windy weather. 

Caravan or camper trailer

Fifth wheeler or gooseneck

More of a caravan with tow vehicle than a motor home, but sometimes considered a hybrid between the two. 

Fifth wheelers have all the features of a standard caravan but are designed to be towed by utilities or trucks. The towing connection is mounted on the tray of the tow vehicle, as close as possible to the rear axle. The fifth wheeler's suspension carries the majority of its gross weight, with the balance distributed forward of the rear suspension over the differential rather than the extreme rear of the tow vehicle. Those towing fifth wheelers should ensure that they do not exceed the axle capacity of the towed vehicle when the rig is connected and the overall gross mass for their vehicle.

From Towing Guide: Definitions

Although some fifth wheelers are built in Australia, many are imported from the United States of America and are converted to meet Australian standards. 

 

Pros: Stability when towing.  See Caravan and Motorhome Books - Fifth Wheelers

 

With 25% of the weight on the tow vehicle, larger vans can be towed by the same vehicle with a fifth wheeler than a separate caravan. 

 

Large fifth wheelers may have slide out rooms, making a very large mobile home. 

 

Easier to manoeuvre and shorter when finding a parking space than a caravan of the same size. 

 

Cons:  Requires a tray back tow vehicle.

 

Load space in tow vehicle limited by being a tray back, with loading of the tray being limited by the space taken by the fifth wheel and to allow room for turning. 

 

When disconnected for day trips or camping for a few days where you can't take a trailer, the fifth wheel on the tray limits the available space on the tow vehicle. 

 

 

 

Which Fridge?
 
Shower and Toilet, or no bathroom?
 
Power; Mains power, solar, generator, or charge battery from tow vehicle?
Heating and cooling
Do you want a washing machine?
Water storage
Annex or awning?
What type of traveller are you?  Choosing the type of caravan or camper to suit your needs.
Single or tandem axle?  Two wheels or four?
Grey water (sullage) tanks
Stone deflectors
Do you want to take a boat around Australia?
Rear view camera
What about taking a ladder?
What to pack
Hire of buy?
Home > Tips and Hints > Starting Out Index > What to choose
Do you want a wardrobe?