Grey nomad and unsealed road enthusiast, Phil J, finds all is not what it could be – or should be – in the world of off-road caravans
An off-road caravan should be capable of travelling off the main and minor gazetted roads. It should be robust enough to manage unsealed gazetted roads. In fact, to get truly off road the ‘van will probably need to travel on these unsealed gazetted roads which are usually rougher than the off road tracks.
These unsealed roads are stony, very often corrugated, have soft sand and bull dust, wash-outs, sudden dips and rough cattle grids. This is what we actually expect to encounter, and many of us look forward to it! Stones are thrown up by the wheels of the tow vehicle and the wheels of the ‘van. These stones are travelling about twice the forward speed of the vehicle combination and when they hit the underneath of the caravan they will eventually cause damage. Anything not protected underneath the ‘van will break.
The corrugations can cause so much vibration as to loosen or destroy anything that hasn’t been prepared to handle them. The amount of vibration is dependent on the tyre air pressures, the size of the corrugations and the speed travelled.
But all of that aside, any caravan which is marketed and sold as an off-road caravan should be capable of handling the conditions expected to be encountered. An off-road caravan should be designed to go off road (unsealed gazetted roads). Otherwise it is just a high lift touring caravan.
Sometimes in the warranty small print there is a waiver which won’t cover damage from corrugated roads. Fair enough if the waiver is restricted to careless vehicle handling or road surfaces so badly damaged they should not have been driven on. But not for ‘normal’ conditions.
The reason we buy an off-road van is so that we can go off the bitumen to places that we can’t access by staying on it. The salesman will not reveal all the hidden waivers in the warranty or invite you to check under the van and see how well protected it is. We buy these vans being assured that they will take us anywhere – nobody mentions that they will not necessarily get you back again in one piece!
There is a (are) Caravan Manufactures Association(s) which is (are) supposed to supervise the build standards of the vans. Why have they not provided suitable guidelines for off road caravans? Why is it just enough to lift the ‘van a few inches and put some stone protection around the lower front and sides? What about underneath and security of the internal fittings and appliances?
When you try to claim a warranty related to damage caused by the vehicle not being able to handle corrugations etc. the manufacturer/dealer washes his hands of the whole business.
A comment made to an acquaintance of mine by a caravan salesman was that “most people just buy an off-road van for the prestige, they will never actually take it off road”.
Most people I have met on the road (or off the road) have had troubles with their van because it wasn’t built to handle the terrain they bought it to handle.
Something really needs to be done about this situation. If the van is not truly built for ‘off-road’ use it should not be advertised/marketed as such. I am uncertain of what can be done about it. It seems the Caravan Builders Associations are not interested as long as the manufacturers are getting their sales. Fair means or foul.
Most of us are at the stage of our lives where we do not really want to face and fight the problems we are encountering, we just want to retire/travel gracefully and quietly. So who will stand up for us? As far as I can see – nobody. It seems we are alone with the problem and will have to get on with it.
I’m talking about common sense things here too. Things like exposed electric brake wires, exposed waste pipes, exposed connections to water tanks. They try to make it look good by putting a protection plate in place for the external water tap. Buyers can see that without having to look underneath!
Please, Caravan Manufacturers, we are your bread and butter. If you continue to supply us with below standard (but what standard, I might ask?) products we are not going to buy another one from you. We will go elsewhere and probably lower our standards and expectations in the process.
Or am I just being a “Grumpy Old Man”?