CAMPING - BUYING ADVICE
A camper trailer is the most versatile bush-travel home-away-from-home you can buy, but there are different types, intended for specific purposes. It’s important to determine your needs before you put down your hard-earned cash.
You can buy an imported, basic camper that’s little more than a tent and storage bin on wheels, for around three grand, or you can spend $100k on a cutting-edge-design, composite-construction, high-tech camper with all the bells and whistles. Clearly there’s a world of difference between the two.
The starting point is determining your intended usage.
Typical extremes are a couple who visit remote areas, driving over long stretches of corrugated roads and rugged bush tracks, staying in one place for only a couple of nights at a time, in contrast with a family of four or five (plus the dog!) going to a coastal campground via sealed roads, setting up for three weeks and then coming home.
Obviously there are optimum camper trailers for these two different usage patterns and for use other than these extremes. Can we suggest you spend at least a day at a camping and caravan show, crawling in, around and under every camper trailer you can find. That way, you’ll know what’s available in the marketplace.
It shouldn’t need to be said, but make sure the camper trailer you want to buy can couple legally to your intended towing vehicle.
All tow bars should have a plate that lists the maximum load and the maximum tow ball load. However, the vehicle’s towing rating remains the maximum it can legally tow, even if the tow bar is rated for a higher load.
Avoid camper trailers with large ball loads, because the ball weight needs to be subtracted from the towing vehicle’s payload. Published, scientific research indicates that the optimum ball weight is 6-8 percent, not the 10-15 percent that’s widely used.
Although camper designs vary widely the market is split into four basic types: pop-top, forward-fold, hard-floor and soft-floor campers.
A pop-top has a hard roof that is cranked upwards, pulling hard sides or tent walls and windows with it.
A hard-floor type has a hinged lid that flips rearwards to become an internal hard floor, pulling the tent and bows with it.
A forward-fold is like a hard-floor, but the hinged lid folds forwards, not rear wards.
A soft-floor type has a vinyl tent cover that is unzipped and the tent, bows and soft vinyl floor are then pulled into place.
Some pop-tops have powered raising and lowering and the best of hard- and soft-floor types have gas-strut opening assistance.
For long-stay camping on a reasonably level, grassy site, where the camper unit is enhanced by annexes there’s not much difference between the three different types: they’ll all do the job.
Pop-tops and forward-folds have a small footprint, so they’re ideal for overnight stays in roadside parking areas or cramped camping areas, where there’s little room to deploy a trailer-tent.
Pop-tops, forward-folds and hard-floor campers can be erected on rough ground that’s reasonably level, without any site preparation.
Soft-floor campers need smooth or cleared ground under their floor sections, but offer the greatest volume of internal storage space for a given trailer length.
Suspension and Brakes
Suspension types fit into two main categories: independent and non-independent. Any camper trailer with a beam axle and leaf springs has non-independent suspension. Wishbone, cross-over swing-axle and trailing arm camper trailer suspensions are the three main types of coil-sprung, independent types.
Independent suspension gives a better ride, improved roll-resistance in corners and greater ground clearance than non-independent.
A camper trailer without brakes is limited to a gross weight of only 750kg, so the only trailers in this category are tiny. Most camper trailers have gross mass ratings over 750kg, so brakes are mandatory. The popular choices are mechanical override and electric.
Mechanical override brakes have a simple cable-pull system, working drums or discs. The pros include simplicity and the ability to trail behind any vehicle. The cons are the need for regular adjustment to cope with cable stretch and pad wear, and the fact that braking action follows the towing vehicle’s deceleration.
Electric brakes require an installed controller that can be adjusted for braking power and application timing, from the driver’s seat.
Ball couplings used on trailers with an ATM of up to 3.5 tonnes must comply with the Australian Standard AS 4177.3-1994. Ball couplings with swivels between the coupling body and the mounting plate on the trailer drawbar have more rough terrain tolerance than fixed types. Alternatives abound, but the simplest off-road coupling is the poly block type.