What to look for in a rig

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As grey nomad numbers surge, so does the choice of rigs available. To the uninitiated or the inexperienced it’s a dizzying decision. With so much to choose from how do you know what is right for you? A few considerations to make are:

SAFETY

The most important aspect of choosing a rig is that you feel safe and comfortable driving it.  If you have never towed a caravan, be aware that it takes a bit of getting used to.  Vans with single axles are easier to manoeuvre than those with double axles – but there are caravan towing classes available that can help you develop your skills. Some of the larger motorhomes and converted buses (those that weigh more than 4.5 tonnes) require drivers to obtain a ‘LR (light rigid truck)’ licence.  To get one, you’ll need to log a certain amount of hours with an accredited instructor – but you may not need to take a driving test. A worthwhile option to consider if you are thinking about spending a lot of money on a new rig is to hire a similar model for a few days so you can experience first hand what you would feel like driving it and camping in it.

BUDGET

Ah yes, we’ve all had our eye on that super dooper new Winebago with the slide-out rooms and the air-conditioning, and wrap-around sound. We can see ourselves travelling in that forever, can’t we? Well, as Michael Caton would say in The Castle, ‘you’re dreamin’ … or at least I’m dreamin’. Luxury rigs come with luxury price tags and today’s top-of-the-range RVs can set you back hundreds of thousands of dollars … which, of course, is fine if you’ve got it. Don’t torture yourself  looking at rigs you can’t afford. Sit down with a calculator, do your sums and then, when you’ve dried your tears, see if you dig out one of the kids’ old tents!

FUEL CONSUMPTION

A giant motorhome or converted bus is going to consume a lot more fuel than a compact little campervan as you zig zag your way around this giant country. As a very rough guide a diesel-engined motorhome weighing 4-5 tonnes typically consumes 12-14 litres/100 km (at 70-80 km/h). An average diesel-engined 4WD wagon towing a caravan consumes roughly 17 litres/100 km; the equivalent petrol 4WD and caravan consumes roughly 22 litres/100 km. Depending on how far and how fast you plan to travel, and assuming that fuel prices aren’t going to come down any time soon, you can start imaging just how many thousands of dollars you are going to pump into your tank in the coming months and years. It’s just one consideration but it should at least be factored into your decision.

SPACE AND COMFORT

While the bigger rigs may generally cost more to keep on the road, they do usually give your more space and comfort. It’s a trade-off. Just how much space and comfort is needed is a personal choice. It may be affected by how long the planned trip is for, how old and fit you are, and what you plan to do with your time. Some couples like to lock up the doors every evening and settle down with a DVD and the air con on, while others are happy to just sit under their awning talking or playing cards. How important is it to you that you have an onboard toilet and shower? How much storage space do you need? There is no right or wrong when it comes to space and comfort … it is just what is right for you and what you are prepared to pay for it.

OFF-ROAD CAPABILITY

Again, to some people, being able to get to those out-of-the-way bush camps, or into ‘inaccessible’ national parks is exactly what a trip around Australia is all about. To others, it’s sitting in a van park meeting other grey nomads and not worrying about getting punctures.  If you think you may want to go  off-road, just remember having an off-road vehicle is only part of the equation. Take the time and trouble to learn some basic off-road skills and some basic maintenance. If it’s 30 years since you changed a tyre, it could be time to dust off the wheel jack! And if you plan to spend a long time out in remote spots, don’t forget to think about alternative power such as solar panels or dual batteries?

MOBILITY

Different rig set-ups offer different levels of mobility. The classic argument normally centres around the larger motorhomes. If you have just set up camp you don’t always want to start up the beast just to pop down the road to get a loaf of bread and a carton of milk … and anyway there’ll be nowhere to park it!  You may choose to tow a small 4WD or similar behind but that again limits your mobility, makes reversing more difficult and so it goes on. Conversely, a lot of people just don’t want to tow anything at all and find pulling a van along limits where they can go. But then if you get a campervan you’ve got no space or comfort. Aaaaarrrgggh! No one told me being a grey nomad would be this hard!

SET-UP AND PACK-UP

Crucial. You’ve had a big day driving and you pull up at a beaut little camping spot. Let’s face it, you want the time it takes to get from the driver’s seat to the campchair to be less than a minute … and that’s including a stop to put the billy on! On this scale it’s hard to go past motorhomes and campervans, but unhitching a caravan and stabilising it isn’t that big of a deal, is it? And even those modern camper trailers take hardly any putting up, do they? Well, get down to a dealership and ask to give it a go. There’s no point spending thousands of dollars on a rig which is too much hassle for you to deal with.

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