A warning for new caravan buyers
Buyers of caravans need to be extremely careful to ensure that their proposed caravan is fully-compliant with Australia’s vehicle safety Regulations, as stated in the Australian Design Rules.
The Federal government’s Vehicle Safety Standards branch has recognised the problems in the caravan industry and is introducing a new Road Vehicle Standards Act in July this year. This replaces the Motor Vehicle Standards Act, which has been in force since 1989.
Caravan industry veterans have warned potential buyers to be well aware that there are currently many non-compliant caravans on our roads, and that the new regulations will not guarantee that all future caravans will be fully-compliant.
Unfortunately, the new safety and quality regulations will not apply to all manufacturers and importers. This is of serious concern as some companies that produce caravans in small numbers will be exempt from having to comply with the new laws.
The companies that will not be subject to the same level of government scrutiny, are usually new-comers to the market, who often lack the necessary resources and experience that are essential to manufacture safe and high-quality caravans. They also lack the expected professional after-sales service and repair facilities across the country.
Industry insiders have long been worried that there are too many new manufacturers and importers competing in a very limited and highly-competitive, market.
Vehicle Safety Standards will allow larger caravan companies a lengthy ‘phase-in’ period to ‘get up to speed’ with the new requirements, so it may well be that the intended benefits of the new laws will not become apparent for up to one year after their introduction.
Unfortunately for the many owners of defective non-compliant caravans, there are no retrospective provisions in the new Act, which means many people will be forced to continue to pursue rectification action against the dealers who sold them their vehicles.
Despite the good intentions of the Australian Consumer Law to protect customers who bought unsatisfactory – or even unsafe – products, it is well known that getting dealers to honour their responsibilities is often very difficult.
With ‘Self-Certification’ permitted, along with the lack of acceptable regulatory auditing of businesses and auditing of vehicles, it is not possible for prospective buyers to have sufficient confidence in the design, manufacturing, compliance, safety and quality of all new caravans.
It is vital that potential buyers ‘do their homework’ thoroughly, before deciding on a particular make and model, rather than being persuaded by a sales-person to buy a ‘better’ (often higher-priced) caravan, which may, or may not, live up to the promises made.
They must decide beforehand precisely what type of caravan they really need to suit their intended travel plans and what they can afford.
There are free detailed independent check-lists available for potential-buyers of caravans, where an evaluation can be made, along with a comparison of makes and models.
A new caravan is a major investment and the purchase must be made on a practical basis: not on an emotional basis.
Sales-personnel are professionally trained to sell. Caravan buyers are not trained to buy and as a result, they will very often suffer severe disappointment and distress, when they realise that what they have purchased is not up to their expectations.
Sadly, there are currently too many owners with serious non-compliance, safety and quality problems; with subsequent complaints and litigation.
When someone buys a new car or truck, there is no need for them to know all about Australian Design Rules (ADRs) and other regulatory requirements, because Vehicle Safety Standards (VSS) would have approved the manufacturer’s compliance submission and quality program.
However, because of the permitted ‘Self-Certification’, caravan buyers are not afforded anywhere near the same degree of assurance.
Obviously, caravan buyers are not expected to be experts on all applicable regulatory requirements, so a very high level of confidence in the manufacturer and dealer is required.
There are freely-available ‘Buyer-Assist’ check-lists that include important questions that potential buyers need to ask dealers. It is most prudent to obtain the answers in writing.
All too often, buyers conduct a fine-tooth inspection of their new pride-and-joy and discover faults and imperfections should clearly have been detected by the dealer during a pre-delivery inspection.